Why Hello there, welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, I’m Jon O’Guin, and welcome to a completely new type of post! Kind of. Well…I…Look, I’m going to level with you: I’m in a weird place, and I don’t know how it’s going to impact today’s post. I really considered taking a sick day. But I think I can handle it. So I want to talk about Cocktails, and the Moscow Mule, but first, I want to give you the context for if today’s post is weird. If you don’t want that context, or basically any text, just click here to go straight to the recipe.
I’ve wanted to cover Cocktails as an option for the site for a while. And I have reasons for that, some great, some kind of selfish, but it’s been percolating in my mind for a while. And when, about 11 days ago, I joined a show that was just about to enter its tech week, I thought it would be a great window to launch it. Cocktails tend to be faster to assemble, after all. And I was glad I did by Friday, as I would have been super-stressed trying to get meals together on top of everything else this week. At which point, on Saturday morning, on the way to the show, I hit a WALL of Anxiety. Like, “scream while driving in order to alleviate the icy cold in my chest”. Now, luckily, it wasn’t debilitating; I was still able to tech the shows that day, I had a fun time with my fellow performers and crew. But it WAS enduring: I honestly am STILL feeling the sensations, and facing the kind of recursive thought patterns that caused it, roughly 34 hours later. So what I’m saying is that today might be rough for a COUPLE reasons: we’re starting something new, I’m struggling with myself, and I’m also a little drunk, because, you know: cocktail. (Though I guess that’s technically just another form of struggling with myself, so now I’m verbally creating recursive thought patterns.)
Anyway, let’s forge on, and discuss cocktails, and why I wanted to bring them to the site.
The Cock of the Staggering Walk
Cocktails, in case the word isn’t one you’re familiar with (we do have international readers, and I have no idea how prevalent the word is in other nations), is the term for an alcoholic drink with multiple ingredients. The etymology isn’t clear, but right now, the consensus is that it’s derived from old horse-racing and classist slang: a “cocktail” was a horse whose tail was cut to show that it wasn’t a thoroughbred. Shortly afterward, the term started getting used as a direct form of nouveau riche: when someone was promoted to high status, without the expected manners and taste of one in that position. And right around 1800, the word started showing up describing drinks, being defined in 1806 as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters”. (Which actually makes me a little upset I didn’t do this post on the Old Fashioned, as I considered, since an Old Fashioned is just ‘whiskey, sugar, bitters’. But I digress.) The point is that, technically, a cock-tail is watered-down liquor with some flavorings, and the idea of watering down and gussying up liquor fit right in with the idea of inferior horses and jumped-up commoners claiming to be gentlemen.
These rapscallions, these cock-tails, these jackanapes! Old timey insults were much more linguistically interesting.
I’ve wanted to work with some cocktail recipes for quite some time, for a couple primary reasons. Firstly, because I believe that Cocktails actually serve as a really great microcosm for understanding cooking as a whole. Cocktails typically have a fairly small ingredient list, with a ton of classic cocktails having fewer than 4 ingredients. Sure, there are some with tons of ingredients, but not most. And cocktails, more than most culinary recipes, focus on the idea of ratios. It’s pretty common for cocktails to be listed in “parts” instead of direct measurements, in order to scale them to multiple orders. “3 parts coke to 1 part Southern Comfort”, instead of “1/4 cup Southern Comfort, ¾ cup Coke.” And that helps you remember how much about cooking is about ratios. This much flour to that much butter, this much pepper to that much meat, etc. It’s the “grammatical” approach to cooking I’ve mentioned before: looking at ingredients in relation to each other, instead of simply on their own.
The other reason I’ve wanted to work with cocktails is because my family has a fuck-ton of alcohol. (For our international readers, a “fuck-ton” is “much more than is reasonable”.) I recently started describing it (somewhat irritatingly, I’ll confess, since I think I’ve said it 4 times in the last 2 weeks) as “not alcoholism, but alcohol-hoarding”.
Like, that box of Truly is 9 months old now, and we STILL haven’t drunk most of it.
And “when all you have is a hammer, get hammered”, as the old saying might go. I didn’t pay a lot of attention in my Colloquial Idiom class. But yeah, exploring fun ideas with the alcohols we have is something my family is very much for. Just today, in fact, we visited our favorite cidery to spend a good day at, Finnriver, for our quarterly cider pick-up, and gained no fewer than 4-5 recipes and ideas out of it.
The last reason is, as I implied earlier, cocktails tend to be pretty quick and fairly easy to make, assuming you have the right ingredients (which, as we established, the odds are pretty in-favor for on me.) And having a quick and easy option that ties nicely to holidays and themes is a life-saver for me, since I often FORGET holidays until far too late. (I was only vaguely cognizant than yesterday was Father’s Day until about 10 AM yesterday morning, for instance.) And maybe it’s the anxiety talking (though I will say it’s decreased since I got to drop “nouveau riche” a while back), but giving myself some space to breathe, and work in some planning, wouldn’t hurt either.
But enough generalities! Let’s get to the specifics. Today’s cocktail is none other than the Moscow Mule! Where did it come from? What does it have to do with Russian Asses? These mysteries and more shall be unveiled to you.
Ain’t That A Kick in The Head?
The Moscow Mule was born EITHER in LA or New York. No one’s 100% sure which. Which is funny, because they ARE sure who invented it. At least, ONE of the guys. In the early 1940’s, Jack Martin was the head of Heublein and Brothers, an alcohol and food company that had recently started making a pretty penny off of sales of their A-1 Steak Sauce.
This was not one of the liquids I assumed would be talked about today, this was not on the top 30-50.
Martin was in a pickle: Americans in 1941 didn’t really drink Vodka, which was a problem, since his company had just bought a little venture named Smirnoff Vodka. Yeah, THAT Smirnoff. This is how the drink of choice of college girls first found success: as a cocktail ingredient.
The next COMPONENT is well known, but how exactly it happened is also debated. IN LA, there’s a bar called the Cock and Bull, old English-pub-style joint. And they had just recently started their own line of ginger beers.
Kind of fascinating, really. I mean, it’s openly LABELED as “Moscow Mule Mixer”.
Ginger Beer is a distinct drink from Ginger Ale…in that it’s more ginger-y. It USED to be that Ginger Beer was alcoholic, and Ginger Ale was derived later as a non-alcoholic medicinal elixir with a less intense ginger taste, but over time, Ginger Beer’s alcoholic content was lowered, until most of it is ‘dry’. It was also invented in England, hence the connection to the pub. And this pre-brewed batch wasn’t selling very well, worrying then-owner Jack Morgan.
Now, supposedly, one of 3-4 scenarios played out:
Scenario 1: Martin and the owner of the Cock and Bull were commiserating at their excess product, and a young Russian immigrant happened along with a bunch of copper mugs she’d made with her father in Russia, but had been unable to sell. The three joined together to make the Mule (and its signature vessel) to solve all their problems in one swoop.
Scenario 2: As above, except instead of a young Russian Immigrant, it was a woman by the name of Osalene Schmitt, who was Jack’s girlfriend at the time, and whose family owned a copper mine.
Scenario 3: Martin was drinking with the BARTENDER at the Cock and Bull, who was just trying to move the cases of ginger beer and Smirnoff out.
Scenario 4: Martin was in NEW YORK, drinking with Morgan, who had just shipped a couple cases of his ginger beer across the country in the hope that it would sell better on the east coast, and while drinking with Pierre Smirnoff, they came up with the recipe. No mention is made of the mug.
The Copper Mug, by the way, is seen as part of the experience.
What IS known is what followed shortly after: John Martin got a Polaroid camera, and traveled the nation with Smirnoff vodka, ginger beer, and a copper mug, and started a somewhat amazing ad campaign. He’d roll into a bar, and tell the guy he’s got the recipe for a Dynamite cocktail. He mixes it up, sells the guy the goods, and says the guy can use the recipe, all he wants is to take a picture with the guy, the mug, and a bottle of Smirnoff. He’d take 2. One he’d leave with the bartender, since the Polaroid was still rather new, and the other he’d take with him…to use as evidence in the next bar that THEY had to get on this “Mule train”, because look at all these other guys who were doing it!
Nowadays, the USDA says you shouldn’t drink out of pure copper mugs, since acidic drinks can leach copper from the mug, so most modern mugs have nickel or stainless steel plating on the inside.
And the composition of the drink is pretty simple. Smirnoff says to use just under a 3:1 ratio of ginger beer and vodka (specifically, it calls for 1.5 ounces (one shot) of vodka, and 4 ounces of ginger beer), while the bottle of Cock and Bull doesn’t specify, saying to use a shot of vodka, juice of half a lime, and enough ginger beer to fill the glass, which is probably around half the bottle, or six ounces (So a 4:1 ratio). Personally, I went with a straight 3:1 ratio, with 3 shots of ginger beer per shot of vodka, and about half an ounce of lime juice. My mug was fairly big, so I doubled the recipe.
Important lesson: drinks are pretty indistinguishable from above. Remember that for future posts.
And it was pretty damn good. I love Moscow Mules, despite not generally being a fan of vodka (an absurd hilarity, as I think by volume Vodka outnumbers all other hard spirits in the house combined, maybe even twice over), and drink one or two at a local bar that specializes in them basically every week. Technically, you can swap out vodka for other spirits, and there’s a slew of nicknames such drinks get (bourbon makes a Kentucky Mule, gin makes a Gin-gin mule, etc), which is kind of weird, because a Moscow Mule is already part of a broader class of drinks called “bucks”, which are “alcohol, citrus, ginger beer”, so I think technically variant Mules should be different kinds of Bucks, but who gives a buck, eh? The point is that ginger beer, citrus, ice and alcohol make a great summer drink. Cold, refreshing, just a little spicy. Try playing around with it yourself, and see what you variety you like.
Let me know if this kind of post (or at least, the parts that WEREN’T about my anxiety, which has diminished) is something you’re violently opposed to seeing more of, or are very excited about seeing more of. You can contact me via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I even have a business email you can find in the About Us section. You can also consider supporting us (or contacting me) through Patreon,
THURSDAY: I’M VERY DRAINED RIGHT NOW, SO I’M GOING TO DELAY THIS ANNOUNCEMENT UNTIL WEDNESDAY, SO I HAVE ALL OF TONIGHT/TOMORROW TO TRY AND RE-CENTER MYSELF. KEEP AN EYE ON OUR SOCIAL MEDIA, AND I’LL LET YOU KNOW.
MONDAY: PROBABLY KIMCHI FRIED RICE. IF NOT, MAYBE WE’LL TALK ABOUT THE BEEF PIE MENTIONED IN THE CAESAR GREEN BEANS POST, FOR A MEAT-ON-MEAT COUNTER TO LAST MONTH’S VEGETABLES. (SORRY WE HAVEN’T HAD MUCH MEAT OF LATE, I JUST DIDN’T COOK MUCH OF IT. WHEN I ATE MEAT, I WAS EATING OUT, OR IT WAS LIKE “A TURKEY SANDWICH FOR LUNCH”)
Here's the short and sweet
2 shots of vodka
6 shots of ginger beer
½ shot of lime juice
1. Place the ice in the copper mug. Add the vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice.
2. Stir to combine, and serve cold.