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History of the classic Moscow Mule

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1941 | Los Angeles, USA

The story of the Moscow Mule is directly connected to the story of Russian vodka. During the October Revolution, Vladimir Smirnov, one of the sons of the Imperial Palace’s vodka supplier, was able to escape execution and flee the country – along with the family recipe.

Having changed the name in the French fashion and two unlucky owners later, the Tsar’s drink of choice wound up in the hands of John Gilbert Martin, a brilliant entrepreneur and heir to the legendary Heublein & Brothers (famous for the A1 sauces), in 1939. Having purchased the nearly bankrupt factory, John bottled up the vodka with a whiskey cork and offered it to Americans as “white whisky – no smell or taste.” The strategy worked.

America began mixing vodka with everything under the sun – from orange juice to milk. Then in 1941, at a meeting with his old friend Jack Morgan – owner of the Cock ‘n Bull brand of ginger ale, the joke of which was still lost on Americans – John came up with a hit for all ages: the Moscow Mule. The cocktail’s golden hour came with the beginning of the Second World War.

Having returned from the service, John ordered the bronze mugs he had fallen in love with on the front in order to promote the drink, and with a freshly-bought Polaroid, he set off on a tour around the country. Stopping in every bar along the war, the talented businessman photographed the owners with the cocktail, taking one photo with him and leaving the other on the wall of the bar.

In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy lead the anti-Communist movement in America, earning himself infamy as leader of the “witch hunt.” Vodka’s Russian heritage offended those Americans paralyzed by fear of Communism, and New York bartenders paraded along Fifth Avenue, chanting “Down with the ‘Moscow Mule!’ We don’t need no vodka!”

The next day, a photograph with the slogan appeared in the New York Daily News. Every American who saw the photo ran to the nearest bar for a glass of the disappearing drink. Ultimately, as one journalist later wrote, the Moscow Mule became a Trojan horse for bringing vodka to Americans.

See the recipe


Historian: Vladimir Zhuravlev

Illustration: Moe

Journalists: Sara Davis, Samantha Johnson

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