Gayle Lynds: A sense of nostalgia swept over me when I recently read a story in The New York Times about the comeback of the Moscow Mule, a bubbly mixture of ginger, lime, and vodka that launched the popularity of that oh-so-Russian spirit in the United States. The Mule, as it’s fondly known, has a surreptitious kick and a spicy taste but never screams VODKA. What’s particularly fascinating to me nowadays is the Mule’s relationship to how the United States and Russia feel about each other.
Which brings me to the next series of posts on Rogue Women — food and drink in espionage thrillers. My geopolitical interest is in the rebirth of the Moscow Mule — recipe to follow.
The history of the cocktail has a kick of its own: The story begins in the Cock ‘n’ Bull, a mock British tavern on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood which before its demise in 1987 attracted luminaries ranging from author Somerset Maugham and actor Richard Burton (who allegedly changed his favorite table each time he changed wives) to rock singer Rod Stewart and his soccer team.
But back in 1941, the bar owner had a double problem: He couldn’t sell the cases of Smirnoff vodka he’d bought or the bottles of ginger beer he’d ordered made. The bartender, Wes Price, said he was just trying to clear out the basement when he mixed them together and added some lime.
At the same time, an immigrant named Sophie Berezinski was carting copper mugs she’d designed in her father’s copper shop back in the Soviet Union around California, trying to sell them. She’d brought some 2,000 with her and was worried “lest her husband toss them in a trash heap.” Seeing a marketing opportunity, the Cock ‘n’ Bull began serving Moscow Mules in her limited edition run.
The popularity of the cocktail took off like a Soviet rocket, and the tiny company of Smirnoff went along for the lucrative ride as the vodka of choice for a properly made Mule. And then the Soviet Union became a U.S. ally during World War II, which made drinking the Mule seem almost patriotic.
But all of that changed with the arrival of the Cold War, along with McCarthyism and blacklisting in Hollywood. A rumor spread across the continent that Smirnoff was a Soviet vodka, and New York bartenders organized a boycott, despite the fact that Smirnoff was actually born in Bethel, Connecticut.
The Mule never regained its popularity . . . until now. When The New York Times says you’re back, you’re back. Which is strange, since the United States and Russia are at loggerheads in so many different areas it’s difficult to keep count. Oh, well. It’s a nice drink.
And its comeback has included the mugs. The family responsible has decided to get back into the business after 74 years with Mule mugs made to the same specifications as the ones brought over from the Soviet Union in 1941. They’re available from Moscow Copper. And this time customers don’t need to steal them from the bars.
The lesson? There are second acts in history, especially if booze is involved. All of this is also naturally inspiration for the spy novel I’m writing, which is set almost entirely in Moscow.
Esquire Magazine’s Recipe for the Moscow Mule Coctail:
½ oz. lime juice
2 oz. vodka
4-6 oz. ginger beer
2–3 ice cubes
Squeeze lime juice into a Collins glass (or Moscow Mule mug) and drop in the spent shell. Add ice cubes, then pour in the vodka and fill with cold ginger beer (not ginger ale, although what the hell). Serve with a stirring rod.
Do you have any favorite drinks you met for the first time in a novel?