Tuesday, July 19, 2016

At Age 75, the Moscow Mule Gets Its Kick Back

Ten years ago, I attended a seminar on the history of vodka at Tales of the Cocktail, the annual New Orleans convention. The moderator mentioned a cocktail named the Moscow Mule as “the drink that started it all” — that is, vodka’s popularity in the United States. Invented in 1941, the drink was a mix of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer, typically served in a copper mug.

I had never heard of it.

Last year, in a nothing-special bar in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. (population 9,500 or so), I sat with my niece, who had recently reached drinking age. She struggled over what to order. The waitress suggested, “How about a Moscow Mule?”

Once a curious footnote, the Moscow Mule, which turns 75 this year, is now one of the most common drinks on the planet. Snobs may sniff at it, but few drinks have so completely benefited from the current cocktail revival.

On a recent episode of “Better Call Saul,” a lawyer orders a Moscow Mule over lunch. The traditional mugs, once rare antiques, can be bought at Bed Bath & Beyond. And Tales of the Cocktail has declared this year’s event, held Tuesday through Sunday, “the year of the mule.”

Not far from Sturgeon Bay in the even-tinier town of Ellison Bay, Mike Holmes, owner and bar manager of the Wickman House restaurant, recently ordered a new batch of mugs. The cocktail is so popular, he said, that whenever one person orders a Moscow Mule, there is a run on the drink.

How does a cocktail go from obscurity to ubiquity in a decade? That the mule is one of the few classic cocktails made with vodka helps; the industry has promoted it heavily.

“We’ve really seen it rise in popularity on the coasts three or four years ago,” said Nick Guastaferro, brand director for Absolut vodka in the United States, “and we saw it as a way to focus our cocktail strategy on the mule.”

That strategy includes educating bartenders and consumers about the drink, campaigning to get it onto bar menus, and providing bars with those pricey copper cups. (Look at your mug next time you order one; chances are, there is a vodka brand’s logo on it.)

GuestMetrics, a data analytics firm that tracks consumer spending, reports that Moscow Mule menu placements in 2015 rose 60 percent over the previous year. Requests for the drink constituted more than 7 percent of all cocktail orders last year, making it nearly as popular as the Bloody Mary and the mojito.

Appropriately, the story of the Moscow Mule’s origin is a tale of pure capitalism.

by Robert Simonson, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Mike Roemer