The Moscow Mule, a simple, refreshing combination of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer that in the late 1940s fought side by side with the Bloody Mary to turn vodka from an obscure foreign tipple favored by Broadway and Hollywood insiders into the day-to-day drink of the American people, seems to be having another little bit of a moment these days. I won’t get into the whys of that, although I suspect that it has something to do with the omnipresence of the modern craft cocktail bar: The Mule gives the non-cocktail geeks who get dragged along something nice to drink while their pals are oohing and aahing over something with yuzu juice, Indonesian arrack, and smoked, chamomile-infused pineau des charentes. Plus, the vodka companies like it. And it comes in a nifty copper mug.
All that’s great, but I still don’t drink Moscow Mules. That’s not to slam the Mule—it’s a perfectly pleasant drink with a great story behind it. (The drink was introduced in 1941 or early 1942 at the Cock ‘n’ Bull pub in Hollywood, a hangout for the movie colony’s famous Brits and Anglophiles and from there spread throughout filmdom). But when Charles Wesley “Wes” Price, the Cock ‘n’ Bull’s popular bartender put the thing together, whether it was on his own or at the direction of Jack Morgan, the pub’s also-popular owner, he undoubtedly modeled it on another drink, and my problem is I like that other drink far better.
Wes Price was born in 1890, you see, and reached drinking age in 1908, which means he would have inevitably made the acquaintance of Mamie Taylor. One of the big hits of the first two decades of the 20th century, the Mamie Taylor first came to national attention in June, 1900, when it was the hot new summer drink. Like the Moscow Mule, it used ginger beer (well, OK, it was actually imported ginger ale, but at the time that was much spicier than the domestic stuff and essentially indistinguishable from ginger beer).
Like the Mule, it cut the ginger beer’s sweetness with half a lime, squeezed into the glass and then dropped into it. And like the Mule, it was based on the cutting-edge spirit of its day. In 1900—and here’s why I prefer the drink—that meant not an anodyne distillate like vodka, but rather a good, rich blended Scotch whisky.
We don’t know the name of the compounding chemist who put this inspired combination together, but we at least know where he worked. That’s because, when the drink suddenly took off in that first summer of the new century, it inspired a lot of speculation in the press as to its origins. Was it from Washington, D.C., thrown together by a bunch of thirsty journalists? Was it from the fertile brain of the head bartender at the Grand Hotel in Cincinnati? Was it yet another New York creation? And who was this Mamie Taylor, anyway?
Mamie (or Mayme, depending on whom you talk to) Taylor was an “operatic soprano” who made a career of touring the vast American heartland, but not in Cosi fan Tutte or La Traviata or anything like that, but rather in vehicles such as “A Brass Monkey,” “Finnigan’s Courtship,” and “The Silver Wedding”—light fare, aimed more at amusing the populace than revealing deeper human truths.
In the summer of 1898—as she wrote in the New York Morning Telegraph in July, 1900—Miss Taylor was in Ontario Beach, New York, just outside of Rochester. She had been sailing on Lake Ontario and returned rather heated. She asked the “obscure bartender” at the resort there for a drink. There was some misunderstanding and motion of said drink back and forth across the bar. The final result was the Mamie Taylor, a Scotch Rickey with spicy ginger ale. It was good—the Scotch adds interest and body to the lime-ginger combo, while that tames the pungency of the whisky.
Theatrical folk do get around, and so did Miss Taylor’s drink. And, once another obscure bartender wrenched the formula into the key of vodka, the same thing happened again. I expect in 30 years we’ll all be drinking the baijiu version.
2 oz Rich blended Scotch whisky, such as Johnny Walker Black Labelhalf a Lime4 oz Ginger beerGlass: Tall glass or copper mugGarnish: Lime half
Squeeze the lime half into a tall glass (or, of course, copper mug). Add the whisky and fill with ice. Top off with the ginger beer, stir, and garnish with the spent lime half.