Recently in the media there have been many articles warning the public of the dangers of drinking Moscow Mules and other cocktails out of copper mugs. With sensationalist headlines like “Are Moscow Mule Copper Mugs Really Poisoning People?” you have good reason to be concerned and conduct your own research! As lovers of the traditional Moscow Mule drink and other cocktails served in a copper mug, we wanted to take this opportunity to dive into why it’s so important to always use a nickel lined copper mug like ours when enjoying your favorite cocktail.
The Origin of the Copper Mug
The Moscow Mule is a popular drink made of vodka, ginger beer, and freshly squeezed lime served over ice in a copper mug. It’s a refreshing cocktail that is said to have been invented in 1941 in a Los Angeles British Pub called Cock ’n’ Bull. Legend has it the owners of a vodka, ginger beer and copper mug company all found themselves in that pub on the same day lamenting about how slow their sales had been. Together along with the pub bartender, they devised a recipe for the Moscow Mule served in a distinctive copper mug. One of the creators traveled the US taking pictures of patrons drinking the cocktail with Polaroid cameras, a cutting edge invention of the day. As the Polaroids began to circulate, so too did the popularity of this novel cocktail. The Moscow Mule was born.
While originally the copper mug might have been paired with the Moscow Mule purely as a marketing gimmick, it turned out the mugs had some interesting properties that enhanced the popular cocktail. Copper mugs help keep cocktails cold for longer and with less ice than a typical glass. The copper in the mug also reacts with the lime and ginger beer to give the traditional Moscow Mule cocktail more of a ‘kick’. But as it turns out, the kick from the reaction between a pure copper mug and the ingredients of a Moscow Mule might actually be detrimental to your health!
Why Copper Mugs Without Nickel Lining Are Dangerous
While copper is an important essential mineral, it is also a heavy metal that reacts with acidic liquids such as cocktail ingredients. Any acidic drink will corrode the copper contained in a mug without a nickel lining, which will then leach back into the drink and increase the level of copper consumed.
In some cases, you may be able to detect a metallic taste in your drink, which can provide a warning that there is too much copper in your drink and that you should not continue drinking it. However, in some cases, the flavors in your cocktail may mask the presence of excessive copper in the drink, thereby leading you to believe that your drink is safe.
The rate at which copper will leach into a drink depends on a variety of factors including the acidity level of the drink, its temperature, the quality of the copper mug, and the length of time the drink remains in the mug – but there is no doubt that copper leaching is inevitable in any copper mug that does not have a protective nickel lining, and there is no doubt that the leaching process begins immediately upon contact.
How acidic does a drink need to be before you should be concerned about having it in a copper mug? According to a recent report released by Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division, and in keeping with Food and Drug Administration guidelines, copper should not come into contact with acidic foods with a pH below six. The pH of a traditional Moscow Mule, along with many of your favorite beverages, is well below 6, largely as a result of the alcohol and other acids contained in the cocktail.
The term pH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of liquids and is expressed on a scale of 0 to 14. Liquids with a pH below 7, like lemon juice, are considered acidic while liquids with a pH above 7, like liquid soap, are considered alkaline. Liquids with a pH of 7, like water, are considered neutral. Liquids like wine, beer, fruit juice, soda, tea (and even water with a dash of lemon in it) all have pHs well below 6. In short, the only safe use of a pure copper mug is for drinking water, which has a neutral pH.
Accordingly, if you use a copper mug that is not lined with nickel with any drink that is even slightly acidic, the acidic fluids in your drink will cause a chemical reaction which will literally cause you to ingest large amounts of copper, leading to an unhealthy and potentially dangerous concentration of copper in your body.
The matter is so significant that the Food and Drug Administration has prohibited food or drink with pH levels below 6 from coming into contact with copper at licensed premises like bars or restaurants. The Food and Drug Administration also requires that anyone serving beverages through pipes must ensure that sufficient mechanisms are in place to ensure that copper is prevented from leaching into the drinks.
High concentrations of copper are very poisonous and have caused various food borne illnesses. Symptoms of copper poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and jaundice, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. In fact, in one report published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers discovered an outbreak of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea among party-goers who had consumed cocktails at a party that have been sitting in copper cocktail shakers. The researchers determined that the concentration of copper in the drinks caused symptoms of chemical food poisoning precipitated by the consumption of alcohol on an empty stomach.
While one drink from a copper mug without nickel lining won’t kill you, long-term exposure can pose serious health issues such as liver problems and low blood pressure. In some cases, severe copper poisoning can cause liver failure and death.
This recent report comes as no surprise to chefs and food scientists who have, for centuries, known to never use copper cookware with acidic recipes like tomato sauce. Beyond the negative health effects, using copper cookware with acidic foods results in metallic tasting recipes. No thanks!
However, while copper cookware has been used for centuries, the use of copper mugs with cocktails such as the Moscow Mule is a relatively new phenomenon and has only recently achieved widespread popularity. As a result, the health risks of using copper mugs without nickel lining have not received the same attention until now.
The Solution: Nickel-Lined Copper Mugs
The good news is that not all copper Moscow Mule mugs are created equal. Some are lined with nickel, including our copper mugs. Why is nickel lining so important? In short, unlike copper, nickel does not corrode or otherwise react when put in contact with acidic liquids. As a result, a cocktail or other drink enjoyed in a nickel-lined copper mug will not experience any copper leaching, which means that your health is fully protected!
In fact, Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division recommends that if bar and restaurant owners are going to use copper mugs for acidic drinks such as the Moscow Mule, then they should use copper mugs lined with nickel in order to avoid copper leaching.
In order to protect the health of our customers, we specifically choose to only manufacture and sell copper mugs made from 100% pure high-grade and food-safe copper with an inner layer of high-grade nickel. As a result, you can enjoy your favourite cocktail in one of our copper Moscow mule mugs for years to come without worrying about copper poisoning or other negative health effects.
Cocktails from our Moscow Mule mugs taste pure and fresh. Like the original Moscow Mule mugs, ours are also great insulators that help keep your drink cold and frosty. The nickel lining in our copper mugs also has an added functional benefit. In particular, because copper is a very soft metal, it can become damaged by repeated use. Nickel plating increases the strength and durability of your copper mug and greatly extends its life!
Cleaning your nickel lined copper mug is simple. Clean the inside of your copper mug with warm water, soap and a soft cloth and dry it immediately. Be sure to never wash your copper mug with detergents or in a dishwasher. The exterior of the mug will naturally patina over time, which many of our customers enjoy. If you wish to remove the patina, simply sprinkle a pinch of salt on a slice of lemon, allow the salt to dissolve, and then gently rub it on the surface of the mug. The lemon and salt will form a mixture that will naturally remove the patina and restore the copper’s shine. Once done, rinse with water and dry well.