Stories and legends grow and change over time, and the history of the Moscow Mule is no exception. This is not surprising considering that alcohol has been involved throughout which tends to make people’s memories fuzzy.
Everybody wants to put his or her name into Moscow Mule history and everybody wants to be a part of history. At the last count, there were FOUR different versions of the story of the birth of the Moscow Mule. Egos have clashed, versions have changed, founders have died, details have become fuzzy and memories have become weaker. Which one do you believe?
The Wes Price Story
The Cock N’ Bull was a British-style pub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California in the early 1940’s. One day, the head barman, Wes Price, was busy trying to help the owner Jack Morgan clear the cellar of the stacks of poorly selling ginger beer. As Price was mixing drinks one day, he had had a flash of inspiration and decided to combine the ginger beer with another slow-mover: Smirnoff Vodka. He added a dash of lime, served it to hard-drinking movie star and the rest is history.
As a postscript to the story, Wes Price left the Cock N’ Bull years later bitter that he had never received a penny for his creation. The sharks had made millions with the new cocktail while Price lived in poverty for the rest of his life.
The John Martin Story
In 1939, businessman John Martin paid $14,000 ($230,000 in today’s money) to save the struggling Smirnoff Vodka Company. Vodka was neither well known nor consumed in America at the time. Beer, gin, and whiskey were all people drank. You could argue that the Moscow Mule made vodka famous and not the other way around.
Martin spent two years trying to market the vodka to no avail and was ready to throw in the towel. One day he was in Los Angeles drinking and lamenting with the owner of the Cock N’ Bull, Jack Morgan, who was complaining about the slow sales of his home-brewed ginger beer.
Morgan’s girlfriend, Osalene Schmitt, joined them at the table. She owned a copper mine. The three decided to fuse their excess stock and create a new cocktail. Jack Morgan’s marketing genius took over from there and the Moscow Mule became a hit.
The Sophie Berezinski Story
The Santa Barbara-based Moscow Copper Company asserts that the third person at the Cock N’ Bull table was not, Osalene Schmitt, but a Russian immigrant named Sophie Berezinski. Mrs. Berezinski’s father owned a copper factory in Russia and had produced 2,000 mugs according to his daughter’s design. But nobody is Russia was buying at the time so she left for the USA and tried to sell her mugs in the land of opportunity.
Initially, it was the same story of rejection for Sophie Berezinski and her 2,000 copper mugs in the US. She was tired of lugging the mugs around LA and cluttering up her home Going door to door in Hollywood and one day knocked on the door of the Cock N Bull owned by Jack Morgan.
Morgan had been brewing his own ginger beer (Cock N Bull Ginger Beer) but was having trouble getting rid of it. The drink had been popular in the UK for decades and in other parts of the commonwealth but had never taken off in the US.
Also at the Cock N’ Bull that day was John Martin – a hustling entrepreneur who had bought the struggling Smirnoff Vodka in the 1939 to save it from bankruptcy. He had been successful as the head of G.F. Heublein & Brothers, a food and spirits importer, but the gamble he took on Smirnoff wasn’t paying off.
Morgan and Martin were friends so they were sharing their woes when Sophie walked in with her 2,000 copper mugs. All three had something they couldn’t get rid of so they summoned head barman Wes Price to experiment with some mixes.
It took a few tries for them to get something palatable, but eventually they got the measurements just right and the Moscow Mule was born.
The Chatham Bar Story
In 1941, three friends were sitting in the Chatham Bar in New York City: one Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull Bar and producer of Cock N’ Bull ginger beer; John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc.
The third person was Rudolph Kunett, Heublein’s vodka division. Martin and Kunett were trying to figure out how to market vodka and came up with the idea of mixing some with Morgan’s ginger beer and some freshly squeezed lime juice.
Martin yelled at the barman to bring over some limes, ice and mugs and the three men tasted the new concoction. A few days later the cocktail was christened the Moscow Mule and crates of ginger beer and vodka began making their way over the plains via railroad on the way to the west coast and Hollywood.
Viral Marketing & the Moscow Mule
The owners knew that getting celebrities on board would give the Moscow Mule the marketing injection it needed. John Martin roamed Hollywood taking photos of celebrities enjoying the Moscow Mule.
Not wanting to miss out on this new celebrity cocktail crazy, every bar in Hollywood started serving mules. Hollywood started the craze and the movement spread east – Woody Allen even featured in an advert promoting the Moscow Mule.
Moscow Mule History – Today
Whatever the details, we can be certain that it was the unique serendipity of three people coming together who all had something different to bring to the table that gave birth to the Moscow Mule. The past of the Moscow Mule might be a little cloudy, but the future is as clear as Russian vodka.What do you think? What version of Moscow Mule history do you believe?