The Moscow Mule is famous for getting North Americans interested in vodka. John Martin bought a small Connecticut-based vodka company called Smirnoff in 1938, but didn’t know how to market vodka to a whiskey-drinking North American audience. He even went as far as to try calling it “white whiskey.”
The story goes that, while in Los Angeles, Martin visited the Cock’n Bull pub on the Sunset Strip. The pub’s owner, Jack Morgan, had a side business selling ginger beer, which was doing about as well as Martin’s vodka. The two put their at-the-time failing ventures together, quite literally, over ice in a copper mug and made an iconic cocktail.
But when Shilo McKay and Taylor Zottl, managers at Mercer Tavern, got their hands on the Moscow Mule, they decided to give it some Alberta flair.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do with our menu is sourcing out locally,” says Zottl about the newest incarnation of the copper-cupped classic. The spring menu’s Alberta Mule is a big change from the previous Moscow Mule recipe at Mercer Tavern, which saw ginger beer and lime juice poured over Stolichnaya blueberry vodka. Instead, Alberta Premium Dark Horse rye is mixed with ginger-mint simple syrup and, of course, Fentimans ginger beer.
“A lot of our spring menu is very light and bright,” explains Zottl. “I wanted to make something that was more whiskey-based. I’ve always liked that Mercer Tavern focused a lot on bourbon and whiskey.”
The drink, dubbed the Alberta Mule, is derived from McKay’s own personal recipe. She explains that classic cocktails in general are gaining popularity again, especially Moscow Mules, which is why they decided to stray so far from the original recipe.
“I remember the first time I tried a Moscow Mule and loving the copper cup,” McKay says, who points out that the Alberta Mule will also be served in a copper cup. “It would be total blasphemy to serve it any other way. It would be like serving a martini in a coffee cup.”
CUP RUNNETH OVER
It’s hard to pinpoint when the copper cup came in. McKay notes that copper was once used as an inexpensive material that kept drinks cool for miners but, by 1939, copper cups weren’t as common. There are rumours that a third person, who was in the copper business, was at Martin and Morgan’s famous meeting. Though the third person was never named, the addition of the copper cup helped make the Moscow Mule memorable.
For Zottl, he loves it when a cocktail has a legend behind it, adding to the overall experience. In the case of the Moscow Mule, though, he thinks the drink’s uniqueness and refreshing taste drive its popularity.
“A friend of mine literally bought his girlfriend blueberry vodka, a case of ginger beer, and copper cups for Christmas,” Zottl says with a laugh. “She loved it that much.”
Alberta Mule recipe
courtesy of Shilo McKay, Mercer Tavern
Ingredients: 2 lime wedges
1.5 oz Alberta Premium Dark Horse rye whiskey
0.5 oz ginger-mint simple syrup
Fentimans ginger beer
Fresh mint leaves
Squeeze limes into a copper mug, then drop in the spent shells. Fill three-quarters full with ice cubes, then pour in rye and syrup. Fill the mug with cold ginger beer and stir. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve.