5 Things You Never Knew About the Moscow Mule

Matthew Kelly / Supercall
Matthew Kelly / Supercall

There’s so much more to the Moscow Mule than it’s kitschy copper mug and deliciously refreshing ginger kick. Created in the 1940s at the Cock ‘n Bull bar, the Moscow Mule’s creation and rise to fame is steeped in as much intrigue as a Philip Marlowe novel. From Russian conspiracies to Smirnoff’s rise to stardom, here are five facts you never knew about the classic Moscow Mule.

It Saved Smirnoff From Going out of Business

Post Russian Revolution, Smirnoff Vodka made the move to America after being acquired by Russian ex-pat Rudolph Kunett. Failing to make an impact on a U.S. market that preferred whiskey to vodka, Kunett had to sell the brand to avoid bankruptcy. John Martin, head of the Heublein Company (as in A1 Steak Sauce), bought Smirnoff for a measly $14,000. Initially, Martin encountered the same troubles as Kunett; sales were extremely low, and the brand didn’t gain any traction. But, after rebranding and capitalizing on the newly created, cult cocktail, the Smirnoff Mule, sales and demand for the vodka rose dramatically. So much so that in 1982, the Heublein Company sold itself, along with the Smirnoff Brand, for a reported 1.4 billion dollars to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

It’s Not From Moscow

While Smirnoff Vodka has Russian roots, the iconic Mule was invented in 1941 at a Hollywood bar called the Cock ‘n Bull—not Mother Russia. The cocktail was originally named the Smirnoff Mule, after the vodka that was used at its base, but it became more widely known as the Moscow Mule, likely after the vodka’s Russian origin.

It Combined Two Ingredients That Wouldn’t Sell

The Moscow Mule was created by bartender Wes Price, who was merely combining two ingredients that wouldn’t sell on their own. As the story goes, Price was literally cleaning out the basement when he decided to get rid of abundant house-made ginger beer and cases of Smirnoff vodka the bar owner had bought. He combined the two into the now famed Moscow Mule.

The Copper Mugs Were a Serendipitous Accident

Russian immigrant Sophie Berezinski came to California with over 2,000 of her father’s handmade copper mugs. She traveled throughout Los Angeles peddling the mugs to any willing buyer. Lucky for her—and the Moscow Mule as we all know it—the Cock ‘n Bull bar bought her entire lot. They served the Smirnoff Mule in their newly purchased mugs to make the drink stand out from the other cocktails served at the bar.

McCarthyism Almost Put an End to the Mule

At the peak of McCarthyism in Hollywood, when anyone or anything with Russian ties was blacklisted, a rumor circulated that Smirnoff was involved in a vast anti-American conspiracy. As a result, bartenders in LA and New York organized a boycott against the Smirnoff Mule and Smirnoff Vodka. The claims were false, and both the Moscow Mule and Smirnoff survived the slanderous rumors.