Smirnoff Vodka: Among the world’s highest-selling spirits brand needs no introduction. As far as well known liquor brands go, it’s right up there. Smirnoff wouldn’t have been what it is without some marketing genius. In fact, a lot of alcohol brands are here today because of marketing geniuses and some out of the box thinking. In this section every week we cover interesting brand stories of various alcohol brands.
Classic Cocktails are well accepted and universally loved. Moscow Mule stands out amongst them due to the very iconic copper mugware that the drink is served in. Probaby one of the simplest recipes as far as cocktails are concerned, Moscow Mule sure packs a punch and has managed to capture the imagination and taste buds of people around the world.
It’s surprising to imagine that Moscow Mule Cocktail would have not existed if it had not been for an urgent need to sell higher volumes of Smirnoff Vodka. Let’s look at the entangled history of the two, and the very rare moment of a cocktail making a liquor brand.
Smirnoff Vodka & Moscow Mule: The Claimants
Like all things spirits and alcohol. The exact origins of the Moscow Mule remain blurry, with multiple claims to it’s invention. It all, however, revolves around John G Martin, who had acquired the rights to Smirnoff in 1939, Rudolph Kunett, president of Pierre Smirnoff, Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull saloon, a famous British Pub in Hollywood and Osalene Schmitt, a girlfriend of Morgan’s who had inherited a copper mugs business. The cocktail was recently credited to Wes Price, the head bartender at Cock ‘n’ Bulls.
Smirnoff Vodka & Moscow Mule: The Story
Per a 1948 quote from the New York Herald Tribune:
The story goes like:
“The mule was born in Manhattan but ‘stalled’ on the west coast for the duration,” the paper read. ” 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.”G.F. Heublein Brothers were manufacturing and distributing Smirnoff Vodka in the US in the early 40s. However, they were struggling to sell, since it was seen as a Russian drink and didn’t find much favour when brown spirits were all the rage in the USA.
On the other hand, Morgan was struggling to sell his own brand of ginger beer and had lots of it stockpiled, whilst Sophie had over 2,000 copper mugs she couldn’t get rid of/didn’t need. Jack, Rudolph and Martin were in New York’s Chatham Hotel, doing as what Jack Morgan describes as “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 it’s low sales, whilst Morgan was ruing about all the product he was swimming in. They wondered what would happen if they mixed two ounces of Smirnoff Vodka, with Morgan’s beer and a squeeze of lime. For hours they tinkered with the proportions of their new creation. A few days later their new concoction was christened the Moscow Mule Cocktail.
Another version of the story that surfaced in 2007 in the Wall Street Journal, accredited the concoction to Wes Price, the head bartender of the Cock ‘n’ Bull Saloon. According to Wes, “I just wanted to clean out the basement, I was trying to get rid of a lot of dead stock.” The first one that he mixed was served to the actor Broderick Crawford, and after that, the drink “caught on like wildfire”.
Even though we don’t clearly know how Moscow Mule originated or came to be served in that iconic copper mug. What we know clearly is that the wild popularity of both the Moscow Mule and Smirnoff Vodka can be credited to John G. Martin.
In 1948, Polaroid developed the first commercially viable instant camera. John Martin started going around the country, with a Polaroid, bottles of Smirnoff Vodka and the Moscow Mule Mugs. He’d go to bartenders and get a Polaroid picture of them with a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka in one hand and the Moscow Mule Cocktail in another. He clicked two pictures. The bartender got one of the pictures for his troubles, often being displayed in the bar itself, and John Martin kept the other picture.
He used the pictures to convince the bartender at the next bar about the popularity of Smirnoff Vodka and Moscow Mule, and what they were missing out on. Within a couple of years, the drink was not only a Los Angeles favourite but also rapidly catching popularity across the country. It resulted in 3x sales for Smirnoff within the next 10 years.
Without the determination and marketing genius of John Martin, Smirnoff would have not been what it is today and we might have missed out on a classic cocktail for the ages.
Here is the original recipe of the Moscow Mule as shown on the Smirnoff Vodka website.
- 45 ml Smirnoff No.21 Vodka
- 120 ml Ginger Beer
- 3 Lime Wedges
- Combine Smirnoff No.21 Vodka, ginger beer and juice of two lime wedges in a copper mule mug.
- Stir to combine and garnish with a lime wedge
Learn how to make the Moscow Mule and other classic vodka cocktails HERE.
Learn more about the history of Smirnoff Vodka HERE