Thursday, May 21, 2009

What We're Drinking: The Moscow Mule

by Senator

Like most great cocktails, the inventor and birth site of the Moscow Mule is disputed and, not surprisingly, New York claims both in regards to this zippy little summer drink.

According to a 1941 edition of The New York Herald Tribune, the drink was invented thusly:

The mule was born in Manhattan but "stalled" on the West Coast for the duration. The birthplace of "Little Moscow" was in New York's Chatham Hotel. That was back in 1941 when the first carload of Jack Morgan's Cock 'n' Bull ginger beer was railing over the plains to give New Yorkers a happy surprise... Three friends were in the Chatham bar, one John A. Morgan, known as Jack, president of Cock 'n' Bull Products and owner of the Hollywood Cock 'n' Bull Restaurant; one was John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc. of Hartford, Conn., and the third was Rudolph Kunett, president of the Pierre Smirnoff, Heublein's vodka division. As Jack Morgan tells it, "We three were quaffing a slug, nibbling an hors d'oeuvre and shoving toward inventive genius". Martin and Kunett had their minds on their vodka and wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot joined with Morgan's ginger beer and the squeeze of a lime. Ice was ordered, limes procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good. It lifted the spirit to adventure. Four or five later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule.

“It lifted the spirit to adventure.” That’s a classic line and one I am sure to repeat during my next binge drinking episode and you should, too.

Anecdotally, I was told a similar version of the story, only the Smirnoff distributor, desperate for a foothold in the bourbon drenched hills of California, invented the drink at some dive in San Francisco.

The story has the down-on-his luck vodka salesman drowning his sorrows at the bar and the guy sitting next to him was suffering a similar lament, only he had unsold cases of ginger beer at his side (maybe those two should have been out selling instead of spending their day in the bar lamenting). In a classic “your chocolate is in my peanut butter” moment, they combined the ingredients and, seeing that it was good, poured a round for all of the patrons and snapped a picture. Allegedly, the Smirnoff salesman took that picture around the country, showing how people really loved vodka once they tried it, and vodka elbowed its way onto the shelves of liquor purveyors nationwide. (Vodka, I am told, is still selling in stores to this very day.)

The drink is simple to make, and when served in a copper mug – the traditional drinkware for the cocktail – tastes something along the lines of a lime popsicle – only with ginger and booze in it. (Or maybe it doesn’t taste like a popsicle at all – I just think that any drink with fruit juice in it tastes like a popsicle, raising suspicion about just what kind of popsicles I ate as a kid. No wonder I never complained when I was teething.)

My version of the drink was created at The City Tavern in Kansas City at the urging of my bartender, the great Sean O’Malley. After a brief discussion and some research, I procured the copper mugs and tweaked the recipe ever so slightly, in so doing winning awards and forever securing my reputation as a master mixologist. (No kidding, it really was chosen Kansas City’s best cocktail by The Pitch newspaper in 2005.) Without further ado, the recipe:


2 parts Smirnoff vodka
2 parts Stewart’s Ginger Beer
1 part sweetened lime juice

Serve over ice in a Copper mug.

There are a few “musts” when making this drink.
1. You MUST use Smirnoff, because if you’re a lounger like me, you appreciate the drink’s lineage and clearly Smirnoff was the vodka used to make the original. Also, if you’re a lounger like me, you are drunk. So go ahead and use Grey Goose or what you will, but if you do that, you’re a Moscow Ass in my book.

2. It MUST be “ginger beer” and not it’s sweeter, watered down cousin “ginger ale.” There’s a difference. Most good liquor stores that sell soft drinks will also sell ginger beer. I chose Stewart’s because my supply was reliable and, like Ray Croc, I wanted the drink to taste the same every time. There are however superior small batch brewers of ginger beer so feel free to shop around.

3. It MUST be served in a copper mug. This is a pain for restaurants and bars because patrons always steal the mug and that can get expensive (and annoying) but in your home bar, if your mug is missing, it’s probably behind Cindy’s Kitty Carryall doll in Tiger’s dog house. Copper, as fans of wire already know, is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Those same endearing properties also apply to cold: the drink get’s insanely cold in the copper mug, I’m talking brain freeze cold, so be forewarned. Don’t slug this drink.

My recipe for lime juice was to squeeze a few limes and add a few barspoons of ultra-refined sugar to take a little of the sour edge off. I never bother with the simple sugar thing – I don’t believe in pots and pans behind the bar, sorry.

So there you have it. Simple drink with a long story, which come to think of it, is a remark I resemble very much.

Va fa salud,

P.S. Smirnoff has an excellent website with an old Hollywood movie spoof that you should check out if you’re into that sort of thing:

(photo compliments of Cocktail Times)

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