A remarkable cocktail is something you notice from across the room, easily identified by the signature drinking vessel it's served in. Few are more distinct than the burnished copper mug of a Moscow Mule.
Great cocktails aren't just alcohol and mixers––they should be something more, a full sensory experience from beginning to end. It starts as you observe the precise convergence of ingredients in a golden ratio that blossoms into flavors and aromas of citrus and spicy ginger. It is then delivered into an ice-filled copper mug and garnished with fresh mint and a slice of lime. Finally, it is presented before you, shiny and cold, compelling you to taste.
The copper mule mug not only tells the story of the drink it contains, but also is essentially functional to the full experience. You might already know that the cone-shaped bowl of a long-stemmed Martini glass was designed so that olives would stand perfectly upright, and the elegantly curvaceous welled Margarita glass was designed to add ample salt, sugar and garnishes.
But why are Moscow Mules served in copper mugs?
Inquiring minds want to know, so this article will sum up the science and history of why traditional Moscow Mules come in copper mugs, and other legit benefits of serving cocktails in pure copper mugs. This includes:
- A Brief History of the Moscow Mule
- The Science of Using Copper Mugs
- How Copper Mugs Amplify the Taste & Aroma of your Moscow Mule
- The Enhanced Experience of Drinking from a Pure Copper Mug
A Brief History of the Moscow Mule
The origin of this timeless cocktail is the tale of the American Dream. One fateful day in 1941, three struggling entrepreneurs had a serendipitous meeting at the Cock 'N Bull bar on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood: A bar owner passionate about his unpopular home-brewed ginger beer, a businessman who took a big chance and purchased Smirnoff vodka, and a Russian immigrant with a cache of copper mugs she couldn't seem to sell. That day, the unlikely trio wisely decided to join forces in a bold venture that would not only save their individual businesses, but also create an iconic American cocktail.
Essentially, the Moscow Mule is the most successful marketing campaign in cocktail history. At a time when most Americans had never even heard of vodka, this cocktail introduced them to the traditional Russian alcohol, and established Smirnoff as a necessity in both bars and homes alike.
Thanks to celebrity endorsement, the Moscow Mule soon took the Hollywood cocktail scene by storm, and quickly became the most beloved mixed drink of the 1950's.
It's popularity understandably waned during the Cold War, and it was briefly re-branded as the Smirnoff Mule to distance itself from communism. However, the recent cocktail renaissance of the 21st century has seen the Moscow Mule come kicking back, as evidenced by lists like Esquire's Top 10 Cocktails of 2019, and Business Insider's 8th Best-selling Cocktail in the World, 2018.
But the answer to why Moscow Mules are served in copper mugs goes much further than a conveniently clever alliance between co-founders desperate for a big break. The story of the Moscow Mule is both the struggle of the immigrant searching for success, and the flashy lifestyle of the rich and famous.
It boasts a simple recipe, yet a complex flavor profile, encapsulated in a shiny copper mug. And as delicious and refreshing as the Moscow Mule may be, it's the copper mug that makes the cocktail so extraordinary. Like the drink itself, the pure copper mule mug is a balance of form and functionality.
The Science of Using Copper Mugs
The most scientific benefit of the copper mug is its ability to regulate temperature. When a drink is served in a copper mug, it gets cold fast––and stays that way.
Copper is a renowned thermal conductor that will keep your beverage frosty in any weather, and is one of the reasons the traditional Moscow Mule has become synonymous with summer. Add a little ice, and the copper chills drinks instantly, and sustains a refreshingly icy rim with every sip.
Because copper is such an excellent conductor, it can keep your cold beverages colder for longer. The downfall of many ill-fated cocktails on a hot summer day is melting ice. Copper mugs stay brisk, and don't disrupt the recipe's ratio, so the simple yet distinct flavors of the Moscow Mule remain strong till the last drop.
Another important feature of the solid copper Moscow Mule mug is the handle. Much like the stem of a wine glass, the copper mug handle keeps the nearly 100 degree body temperature of your hand from impacting the status of your deliciously frosty cocktail.
How Copper Mugs Amplify the Taste and Aroma of Your Moscow Mule
If you want to know what a Moscow Mule tastes like, purists would insist the only way to experience it is in a 100% copper mug. Aside from being a great American tradition, copper mugs offer some unique enhancements to both the flavor and aroma of the Moscow Mule (or almost any finely-crafted cocktail).
Although subjective, most discerning drinkers would agree that copper mugs imbue cocktails with a superior taste. Experts explain that the copper oxidizes the vodka upon contact, thus enhancing the flavor profile and potency of the aromatics.
The intense cold of the copper also creates more stability in the bubbles of the ginger beer carbonation, and balances the tangy citrus of the lime with the earthy spice of the ginger.
For the skeptics out there, the theory of superior taste is easily verifiable. Simply make or order two Moscow Mules––one served in a plastic cup, and one served in a copper mug. Take a moment to inhale deeply, enjoy a big sip, and let your senses be the judge.
The epiphany should take a matter of moments, and you soon realize why a Moscow Mule is best served in a copper mug, and why any other cup or glass is vastly inferior. The difference can be so vivid, you might even consider drinking all your favorite beverages from copper mugs, even hot tea and coffee!
The Enhanced Experience of Drinking From a Pure Copper Mug
Throwing back shots with reckless disregard is a great way to get hammered, but a terrible way to enjoy something delicious. People order cocktails for the full package––observing its creation, revelling in its presentation, and slowly savoring its captivating story and unique taste.
Not only is a cocktail a well-balanced combination of spirits and mixers, it's also about the aesthetic and function of the vessel it's served in. A cocktail should be an object of inspired beauty, presented thoughtfully in a suitable glass or mug and garnished appropriately. It should take time, because it's made by hand.
Although the copper mug has become the symbol of Moscow Mules, it can also pair exquisitely with many other cocktails. Many people seem drawn to the shine and nostalgia of the metal, and Mixologists seem impressed by the scientific properties of the copper mug. Other drinks prominently featured in copper mugs include Dark 'n Stormy, Mescal, Gin & Tonic, and Cuba Libre.
No matter how frosted a beer glass gets, nothing can keep a mixed drink colder than a copper mug. The sensation when one's lips touch the ice-cold rim with every sip is part of the unique experience.
The flavors are heightened, the aromas amplified, and the balance of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer is never watered-down by melting ice. Provided your Moscow Mule is served in a pure copper mug, the last sip should be just as robust and enjoyable as the first.
The benefits of drinking from copper mugs aren't a newfound discovery. In fact, copper has been the preferred metal for drinking vessels for thousands of years.
Gurus in India have been using copper mugs for hundreds of years, and copper goblets called Escra have been found in ancient Irish ruins. Even American settles in 1645 drank exclusively from a massive tankard made of pure copper, known today as the Virginia Tankard.
The Moscow Mule is a classic drink served in a magnificent copper mug because it tells a compelling story, and enhances your consumption experience. It is an unforgettable drink because it's served in a mug that is both more beautiful than and functionally superior to glass.
Three Reasons Moscow Mules Come in Copper Mugs
The reason your Moscow Mule is served in a copper mug is not a fluke. It is not because it's the latest trendy hipster craze. It's not just a marketing ploy (although it definitely started out as one), nor is it a conspiracy by the lobbyists for Big Copper.
Moscow Mules come in copper mugs for three reasons: taste, temperature, and presentation.
The unique experience of drinking a Moscow Mule is a balanced combination of these three elements. It's also the reason this drink is not only the most recognizable, but also consistently one of the most popular drinks in global cocktail culture history.
Taste: The natural properties of the copper oxidize the alcohol, resulting in powerful aromatics and superior flavors. The bubbles of the ginger beer stay fizzy, and perfectly counter the acidity of the fresh lime juice. It's spicy yet refreshing. Simply put, it's delicious!
Temperature: Copper is an ideal thermal conductor, instantly chilling your beverage upon creation, and maintaining a consistently arctic temperature. This prevents the ice from quickly melting and dulling the cocktail ratio, while keeping the rim refreshingly frosty with every sip. The handle also keeps your hot little fingers from fluctuating the temperature with every touch.
Presentation: A glinting copper mug looks authentic and catches the eye. It is vintage, yet modern, and tells a story of creativity, charm and resilience. It is instantly recognizable, and makes for a fine looking beverage. Yes please!
The Bottom Line
The copper mug is iconic, a great American tradition of nearly 80 years, and is the only proper way to drink a Moscow Mule. Cheers!