Meet the Mule and Old Fashioned
Not to be redundant or anything, but the classics are classic, because they're, well, classic. They're timeless. Don't get us wrong - we love crafting new recipes and exploring alternative techniques, constantly recreating ourselves, but after several of these drinks, it's often the classic cocktails that carry us through the evening.
From behind the bar, we see the same pattern: long after dinner, orders from the cocktail menu slow to a trickle, and beer and vodka-soda replace the majority of volume. However, there are two classic cocktails that are still ordered steadily, all night long, all the way until 2am. These are the Old Fashioned and the Moscow Mule. And this month, we deliver them both directly to your kitchen.
The Old Fashioned
The full story is drearily long, but the history is unusually important to understanding this classic, so here is the abridged version:
While the term “cocktail” today might refer to both a Sazerac and an Appletini, in the beginning, terminology was more persnickety. There were Slings (spirit, sugar, cold water), Toddies (spirit, sugar, warm water), various citrus Punches and such, but no mention of the word cocktail. It wouldn’t be until 1806 that the “cock-tail” was defined in print, originally written as a drink comprised of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” Those four ingredients made a cocktail. Anything else, tasty as it may be, wasn’t a cocktail.
But over the next 75 years, bartenders continuously tweaked and played. There was the “fancy cocktail” with curacao, then the “improved cocktail” with maraschino liqueur and absinthe.
The evolution continued with pineapple sticks, raspberry syrup, muddling in fruit slices, and the like – what would later be referred to as “the garbage”. It's all tasty, and a solid template, but it was not a cocktail according to the original definition.
When The Chicago Tribune printed “old-fashioned cocktails” in 1880, they were not referring to a recipe that felt quaint and homey, but rather defining a type of drink from the past. They referenced local curmudgeons, who sought a cocktail like the kind they used to get. The Old Fashioned kind. And an Old Fashioned is today just as it was back then: spirit (whiskey), sugar, water (ice), and bitters.
This drink, as much as any other, is how we know the age of cocktails is back and here to stay. Men and women, young or old, it doesn't matter. Everyone drinks it now. All it asks of you is that you enjoy your drinks (1) strong and (2) delicious. The Old Fashioned will take it from there.
It’s worth noting that any claim to have “invented” the Old Fashioned is absurd, seeing as it was being made for at least 75 years, as a “cocktail” before it earned its latter name. But extra nonsense points go to the Pendennis Club of Louisville, who maintain their paternity claim even though they opened their doors in 1881, a full year after it first appeared in print.
Oh, forget the copper mugs already! Yes, the "traditional" Moscow Mule is supposed to be served in a copper mug, in exactly the same way every kiss begins with Kay, and every Charger jersey is washed with Tide, the official laundry detergent of the NFL.
Before the 1950s, no one wanted to drink vodka in America. Until, that is, the (then
American owned) Smirnoff Company channeled the power of marketing. As legend has it, one day in 1946 an exec in the Smirnoff Company lamented to the owner of the Cock’n’Bull tavern in Hollywood about his inability to sell vodka. The owner of the tavern related that he, too, couldn't sell his product, a spicy ginger beer he had been making that no one would touch. A spark of inspiration, a twist of lime, and a whimsically nonsensical name later, the Moscow Mule was born.
But what of the copper mug?
Simply put, Cock'n'Bull served beer out of copper mugs at the time the drink was conceived, and they had too many in storage.
A bartender said in an interview that he was just trying to "clear out the basement." But copper is cool and shiny, and vodka was brand new, and so they instantly became part of the experience. Additionally, instant photography had literally just been invented, so the marketing geniuses handed out mugs, taking pictures of bartenders and their shiny copper drinking apparatuses. Bartenders posted this new "Polaroid" magic on the back bar, fueling the spread of the classic and their association. Alas, the mug is an accessory, required for neither the production nor enjoyment of a Moscow Mule.
We say the Moscow Mule is a fine drink. It's simple, it's spicy, bright and
refreshing, and one cocktail that's (arguably) better with vodka than with any other spirit. If you can find a copper mug, enjoy it. Drinking out of ice-cold copper is super fun. If not, it's still good. A mule in any other glass tastes just as sweet.