Copper in the Arts

August 2007

The Legend of the Moscow Mule: The Copper Cup that Could

By Michael Cervin

Moscow Mule Woddy Allen 1966 Ad 1966 vintage magazine ad featuring Woody Allen and the Moscow Mule

Copper has been used for thousands of years as a drinking vessel. In ancient Ireland, people drank from a copper goblet called an escra, and the yogis of India used copper cups. The American colonists drank from copper mugs, including the Virginia tankard, dating from 1645, and the flaggon with its generous three-cup capacity. And, in the 1940s the Moscow Mule came to town, a cocktail with a kick that demanded its own copper mug.

Most cocktails require specific glassware for their drinks—the highball and the martini glass, for example—however, the copper mug for the Moscow Mule is a must. If the old stories about the genesis of the drink are correct (they are mostly unanimous with a few variations) then it goes like this. In the early 1940s, John Martin was the president of G.F. Heublein & Brothers, an East Coast food and spirits importer best known for introducing A-1 Steak Sauce to America. Sometime in the 1930s, Martin, in an effort to market the next cocktail craze, purchased a small vodka distillery called Smirnoff for $14,000. Yes, that Smirnoff. Back then, very few people drank vodka because most had never heard of it, let alone tasted it.

One day, while Martin was visiting his friend Jack Morgan who owned the Cock 'n Bull pub on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, he bemoaned the fact that he couldn't sell his vodka. Morgan complained he couldn't sell his ginger beer, a side passion of his that saw cases of it sitting in his restaurant's basement. And a third person (never identified in any of the stories) lamented that she had copper mugs that she either didn't want or need. Enter the brainstorm. Could all three benefit from combining their losses? The vodka and ginger beer were mixed with a dash of limejuice and served in copper mugs, imprinted with a kicking mule.

Today's Moscow Mule 1996 Moscow Mule

Photograph by

In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in cocktail history, Martin combined these three seemingly hopeless endeavors into one of the most popular drinks of the 1950s and early 1960s. Advertised as the Smirnoff Mule, magazine ads and posters across the nation showed celebrities Woody Allen, Monique Van Vooren, Julie Newmar, "Killer" Joe Piro, and Dolores Hawkins enjoying this tasty drink.

The result was that the Moscow Mule became a huge hit within a few years, helped by the Hollywood set and their affinity for the latest cocktail trends. Copper mugs were soon ordered across the country to support the lively libation.

But, as popular as it was, the original Moscow Mule is rarely seen outside of vintage magazine ads. Although, in 1996, a ready-to-drink version of the Smirnoff Mule was re-introduced in a copper bottle.

As a testament to the correctness of the drink, you can still by original copper mugs from the 1940s at flea markets and on eBay. Some companies even market a set of four copper mugs for about $120. The original copper mugs weighed eight ounces and measured three and a quarter inches tall with a three-inch diameter base. The underside was imprinted with the words, "A Cock 'n Bull product."

To make your own Moscow Mule, mix two ounces of vodka, four ounces of ginger beer (ginger ale will suffice, but ginger beer is preferred) and one ounce of lime juice. Garnish with a lime wedge. Make sure that you've properly served it in your copper mug, and enjoy.


How to Make a Moscow Mule (complete with a copper cup) Video:

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