A Martini needs a Martini glass. An Old Fashioned requires a tumbler. And the refreshing Moscow Mule is not quite right unless it’s served in a sleek, shiny copper mug. It’s a foolproof recipe: vodka and fresh lime juice topped with ginger beer and served over ice in a handled copper mug. Any other vessel would just be a little…sad.
That pretty, tawny cup stands out in a sea of glass barware. But why, exactly, are Moscow Mules served in copper mugs?
The copper mug’s first raison d'être is simple—tradition. Ever since Moscow Mules first appeared on the cocktail scene in the 1940s, the proper presentation has been in a frosty copper mug. The drink was dreamed up as a marketing scheme. As the legend goes, John Martin had just bought a little company called Smirnoff (yep, that Smirnoff). At that time, vodka was exotic to Americans and not especially popular. His buddy Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull pub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, was struggling to sell his ginger beer—and Morgan’s girlfriend owned a company that made copper products, including mugs. The three met at the Cock ‘n’ Bull and, over a few rounds of drinks, got to talking about how they could hawk all of their products. They started mixing and stirring—and the Moscow Mule was born.
The originators took pictures of patrons drinking from their snazzy mugs with Polaroid cameras, a cutting-edge invention of the day—a genius marketing move. Suddenly everyone from Hollywood to New York City was seen sipping from their photogenic mugs. Basically, the ancestors of Instagram influencers.
But a drink built on marketing alone wouldn’t thrive for 75 years if it weren’t also delicious. The Mule remains one of the most beloved drinks on the planet.
But we digress. Back to the mug! The reason it's stuck around for so long is because it's highly functional. It keeps the drink nice and chilled, the optimal Moscow Mule temperature. Copper is super effective at insulating, especially helpful for summertime drinking. And the handle keeps your body heat from messing with this perfectly icy concoction.
Another argument for the mug is a little ineffable but still valid — mixology experts claim that copper enhances the taste. Cold copper can increase the amount of bubbles in fizzy ginger beer, and more bubbles are always a good thing. When vodka touches the walls of the mug, the copper begins to very slightly oxidize— meaning it undergoes a chemical change when exposed to moisture. That oxidation lends a bright and slightly tinny quality to the drink — total flavor enhancer!
But the best reason to raise a copper mug to the Moscow Mule mug is the experience of an ice-cold, fizzy, fresh drink served in a just right way on a hot day. Your copper mug shot for the ‘gram? Totally optional.