Are You Telling Stories?

The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming is a great, hilarious movie from 1966. That’s the same year Woody Allen urged us to try the Moscow Mule cocktail.

Russians are coming!Russia’s most famous cocktail. Well, not exactly their cocktail, actually it’s American.

Regardless, the Moscow Mule is back. What is it back from, and why is this important? The answer to the first part of the question is the forties, fifties and sixties. The second part is a little more involved.

First, what is a Moscow Mule anyway? It’s a cocktail made with vodka, ginger beer and lime. Sometimes simple syrup is added, which seems like overkill as ginger beer has ample sugar. One of its unique features is that the Moscow Mule is traditionally and “properly” served in a copper mug.

Why it’s popular today is partly due to the rebirth of “cocktailism” and the newfound respect for the great classic cocktails: the Mule is at least a semi-classic. But there’s another reason: 45 years after Woody Allen mugged for Smirnoff, Oprah has let it be known that the Moscow Mule is now her favorite cocktail.

The Moscow Mule origin is a fun and interesting story. It involves both New York and Hollywood. Of course. There were these two guys in a bar. Really. In fact, they were in a hotel bar.

One worked for a distillery that made a product no one in America wanted or even knew about. The other one owned a bar and an interest in a soft drink franchise that left him way overstocked in another unknown product, ginger beer. Legend has it that a third person, a woman, was present and had somehow acquired an inventory of copper mugs.

TWoody Allenhe little known distilled product mentioned in the previous paragraph was vodka and the distillery was Smirnoff, which had been purchased by G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc. for $14,000. In 1941 the most popular spirit in America was gin, but what happened at New York’s Chatham Hotel Bar on this day would ultimately bring about the “fall” of gin in favor of vodka. The players were John G. Martin of Heublein and John “Jack” Morgan, President of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products (which produced ginger beer) and proprietor of the Cock ‘n’ Bull Tavern, a bar on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles popular with celebrities. While the inspiration occurred in New York’s Chatham Hotel Bar, the drink caught on fire, much like the Margarita, in Hollywood and its environs.

And there are many more Mule-related stories. There are stories behind copper drinking vessels which were used in ancient times, and more recently by American colonists. There are plenty of stories behind ginger beer. And vodka, of course.

OK. Interesting, but so what?

The answer is “stories are important”. We all love stories. They are the building blocks for developing a Mixology Culture or Cocktail Culture for your bar. There are similar stories for nearly every well-known, and certainly every “classic” cocktail.

What is your point of difference, what separates you from the competition? Your competitor can carry the same products, show the same TV shows and play the same music you do. But your bartenders are unique to your establishment. What if your cocktail list has a Moscow Mule and your bartenders, every bartender, could talk about the Oprah connection or the Smirnoff connection or the “hotel bar” connection? The message isn’t “you should have a Moscow Mule in your bar”, it’s “use the great cocktail stories to build a culture of high quality for your bar”.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.