May 1, 2016

How to Make a Moscow Mule : You'll need lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer. (DAVID WONDRICH, JAN 7, 2016, Esquire)

In which our half-pint dissertation on the Progress of Vodka in America is brought to a felicitous conclusion. In 1934, one Rudolf Kunett bought the U.S. rights to the French Smirnoff brand (formerly, of course, Russian, until the hugger-mugger with that Lenin fellow) and started making and marketing vodka in America. Now, Americans had heard of the stuff, to be sure: It's not like we as a nation were entirely unprovided with Russians -- some of them refugees from the revolution, many from other Russians. G. Selmer Fougner's 1935 Along the Wine Trail, a distillation of the wisdom to be found in his daily column in the New York Sun, presents a tidy little section of vodka drinks -- including the earliest vodka martini our tireless researchers have been able to uncover, lurking under the guise of the Vodka Perfect (as in martini; unless, of course, it's a vodka Perfect Manhattan). But when Fernand Petiot, inventor of the Bloody Mary, moved to New York from Paris after Repeal, so scarce was vodka that he was forced to build his creation with gin. It wasn't that we didn't know vodka, it was that we didn't like it (one 1933 drink book defined vodka as "Russian for 'horrendous'").

In 1939, an exec at Heublein Inc. by the name of John G. Martin convinced his employer -- Lord knows how -- to buy out Kunett for all of 14K. Martin was not a stupid man, although it kinda seemed that way at first. But he was a push, push, push hard-charger, and he caught a couple of lucky breaks. First off, when they bottled Kunett's remaining stock, they used the leftover corks from his even-less-successful attempt at making whiskey. Heublein's distributor in South Carolina, the story goes, took one look at the cork and was visited with the slogan "Smirnoff White Whiskey. No taste. No smell." This, especially once refined into "Smirnoff leaves you breathless," inaugurated vodka's lock on the, ahem, dedicated daytime drinker.

Yet these brave souls, however loyal, weren't enough to support a business on the scale that Martin had in mind. Cut to Hollywood, 1946. Martin's sitting at the Cock 'n' Bull pub in Hollywood, commiserating with its owner, Jack Morgan. Morgan, you see, had been bottling this nice, spicy ginger beer that nobody wanted to drink. The deal was done: Smirnoff, Cock 'n' Bull ginger beer, and half a lime (swiped, no doubt, from the Cuba Libre), dumped into a special copper mug -- sourced by yet another friend with business problems -- and stuck with a meaningless but catchy name. The Moscow Mule. A little careful promotion, and wham! Vodka's breakout cocktail. Professional bartenders hated it, but the suckers bit.

Posted by at May 1, 2016 8:07 AM

  

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