In 1934, Rudolph Kunetchansky secured the rights from Vladimir Smirnov to produce Smirnoff Vodka in the US. At this time vodka was a relatively new product in the US market, not very popular, and was mostly sold to european immigrants. Trying to sell an unpopular spirit was not working financially for Rudolph, and in 1939, Rudolph sold the business to John Martin, an executive for G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc., an east coast spirits company. One of John Martin’s good friends was Jack Morgan, president of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products (which produced ginger beer) and owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull Tavern, a bar on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In 1941, these men would change the spirit world forever with their push to use vodka as a predominant mixing spirit. An article from the New York Herald Tribune recounts the tale:

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…

John, Jack, and Rudolph had created a drink that would become hugely popular throughout Los Angeles, and soon spread coast to coast, taking vodka with it. But what of the mug? As luck would have it, John Martin’s girlfriend happened to inherit a copper goods business, and he used her company to further his marketing campaign. Engraved copper mugs were ordered, and Martin began his tour across the country. In every bar he stopped at, he would take a polaroid picture of the bartender holding his copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff. These pictures would then be shown at the next bar, giving credence to their products. This marketing campaign was so successful that between 1947 and 1950, Smirnoff case sales nearly tripled.

Although the drink was popular for a time, its season soon faded as ginger beer never really caught on as a mainstream product. In addition, nice shiny copper mugs made pickpockets out of otherwise upstanding bar patrons. Vodka was now used in a majority of cocktails, and it was easier to take the drink off the menu than replace mugs and stock ginger beer. Luckily for us, ginger beer has seen a renaissance recently and you can find several high quality varieties at most grocery stores. Cheers!

The Moscow Mule
2 oz Vodka
1/2 Lime
Ginger Beer

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