The cool, glistening sweat from the Moscow Mule’s iconic copper mug sells it on sight at a bar. The uninitiated want to know what it is, and those who already do are tempted by sheer Pavlovian response, whether on a hot afternoon or to settle the stomach after a meal.
If lore surrounding it is to be believed, then it’s the stuff of Casablanca — of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walked into mine. Or, rather, of all the vodka-and-ginger beer-hawking joints, in Hollywood, in 1941 the young Russian immigrant carrying scores of handmade copper mugs walked into the Cock ‘N’ Bull Tavern.
That’s where John Martin of Smirnoff vodka and establishment owner and ginger beer peddler Jack Morgan were commiserating over their respective glut of product, when Sophie Berezinski walked in with an armful of the soon-to-be iconic mugs. The vessels were a perfect fit for an icy mixture of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice, and the Moscow Mule was born.
Or something like that. Like many barroom stories with hazy details, the origin story is specious. A 2007 Wall Street Journal story suggests a bartender at the tavern invented the drink on a whim to help clear inventory, and multiple sources suggest the source of the mugs was Mr. Morgan’s girlfriend.
But, it’s a good yarn. And two Pittsburgh bartenders will have their spins on the crisp refresher featured in a coffee table book that the Southern California-based Mule mug producer — the Moscow Copper Co. — is publishing to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Ms. Berezinski’s grandson owns the company.
Kimber Weissert of Wallace’s Tap Room in East Liberty and Ariel Scalise of Tender Bar + Kitchen in Lawrenceville submitted Moscow Mule recipes to be the official drink for the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans this year. Neither was accepted, but the recipes caught the eye of Moscow Copper.
“I didn’t win so I’d put it out of my mind,” Ms. Weissert said. “Then months later, I got this letter in the mail and thought wait a minute.”
The two creative iterations could not be more different.
For the Jeweled Mule, Mrs. Scalise of Brookline used Absolut Ruby Red grapefruit vodka, and among other things, Falernum, a lemongrass simple syrup, muddled fresh ginger and a pea-sized wasabi ball to make an Asian-influenced version.
Ms. Weissert of Avalon eschewed the traditional vodka for smoky Montelobos Mezcal for her Diablo Mango Mule, which was inspired by a childhood memory — the dried chili mango candies that a family friend used to bring back from trips to Mexico. The drink also uses chili bitters and mango puree and is garnished with one of the candies formed into a rose.
Ironically, neither is available at their respective bars — yet — but are to be added to the menus soon.
It has been a banner year for both barkeeps. Ms. Weissert was one of six national finalists for Woodford Reserve bourbon’s Manhattan competition held in New York City in March and Mrs. Scalise was one of seven national finalists in a Hendrick’s gin Hot Gin Punch competition in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in April.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.