The Perfect Dark ‘n’ Stormy
Like any good story, this one starts on a boat. It was late August and I was 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, sailing to Nantucket for the first time. We had just beaten sundown, arriving at Nantucket Harbor after a day-long sailing excursion from Newport, delivering the boat we’d be crewing in that year’s Nantucket Race Week sailing event. A few blocks away by cobblestone streets, our guest house awaited, and once inside after a round of introductions, I was treated to my first Dark ‘n’ Stormy cocktail.
After a day of racing, the boat owner will traditionally show his or her gratitude with a round of drinks at the bar, and you would be hard-pressed to find a crew member who’s first choice isn’t a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. After our 12 hour adventure on the water, it was certainly something to look forward to.
The nautical appeal of the Dark ‘n’ Stormy is no modern combination, it originates from its history on the island of Bermuda, a British colony since the early 17th century, and outpost for the Royal British Navy, who are said to have originated the drink.
If an American lager was made for summer ballgames, a mint julep for the Kentucky Derby, an IPA for being snowed-in up in a Vermont cabin, and a Corona for sitting on the beach, there is only one acceptable drink for sailors around the world — the Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
It became my go-to drink to make in college, while most people were content with room-temperature vodka in red plastic cups, the delight of a proper mixed drink (and furthermore, one that was so delicious) made them often requested during my years of dorm room hyjinks. I have done a fair bit of experimenting with the cocktail, but given the simplicity of the drink, it’s hard to mess up.
Other than ginger beer, the mandatory ingredient is Gosling’s Black Seal rum, which rages from the standard 80-proof, up through the devilishly overproof 151 variety.
How to make it:
The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is a fantastic cocktail due to its unique taste and ease to make. One doesn’t need to worry about bitters, cocktail shakers, or other complexities with this beverage.
The official International Bartenders Association recipe calls for 2 oz (roughly a shot and a half) of rum and 4-6 oz of ginger beer, but you can experiment with your own ratios, depending just how dark (or blackout) you feel like getting that night. Start with a highball or Tom Collins glass (although, a rocks glass works fine as well). Pour the ginger beer over ice, and the shot of rum on last. Garnish with a squeeze of freshly sliced lime and serve.
Here’s the provisions you’ll need:
- Gosling’s Rum (80 Proof)
There are many types of rum on the market, and when it comes to making a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, they are not all created equal! I’ve tried just about every major rum there is, and Gosling’s Black Seal produces the best tasting Dark ‘n’ Stormy, bar none. Keep your Captain Morgan, Admiral Nelson, or Bacardi for your “rum and coke”, because without Gosling’s, it just isn’t a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
If you are feeling particularly intrepid, double up on the rum, or try the overproof varieties.
Price: ~$23 – 750ml / ~$35 – 1.75L – Black Seal 80 proof rum
- The ginger beer
While the name might be deceiving, ginger beer is (typically) a non-alcoholic soda with a fiery ginger taste. The original recipe calls for Barritts Ginger Beer, which like Gosling’s, is made right on Bermuda. Gosling’s since has created their own brand of Ginger beer, and other brands include Reeds, and several others.
Barritts ginger beer is perhaps the most authentic choice, with rich, zesty ginger profile and plenty of carbonation. Many Dark ‘n’ Stormy connoisseurs will assert that it is the ultimate choice of ginger beer for the cocktail.
Goslings brand ginger beer (bottled and distributed by Polar Beverages of Worcester, MA) is a bit on the sweeter side, but certainly makes a delicious Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Along with cans, this can also be found in 1 or 2 liter bottles in many grocery stores, which is a little easier than cans when you plan on making a lot.
There are a number of other brands on the market, each with different flavors. Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew for example, probably has the strongest ginger taste of them all, with a very zingy flavor that is nearly spicy. I’ve been told Goya Jamaican Style ginger beer is also quite on the spicy side.
Price: Around $4 – $10 for a 6-pack, depending on the variety.
- A slice of lime
Garnish with a freshly sliced lime wedge (or a dash of lime juice, if there are no limes to be found). For a bit of extra flavor, squeeze the lime before serving.
Cubed ice is preferred over crushed, to prevent the drink from becoming too watered down. Given its strong but refreshing taste, a proper Dark ‘n’ Stormy is best served cold.
How it’s Made – A Look inside the Goslings factory in Bermuda
After years of enjoying the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, I finally had the chance to visit the island that originated the drink, and where all Gosling’s rum is produced. In downtown Hamilton, you will find the Gosling Brothers family wine & spirits store, which is fully stocked with the full line of Gosling’s rum, as well as a surprising variety of other beverages, some only available here in Bermuda.
Today, Gosling’s has branched out further into selling some gold-style rums in addition to their classic black seal. I was told a lighter rum such as the newly released “Gold Seal” is ideal for another Bermudan signature drink, the Rum swizzle. The flavor of the Black Seal rum is, quite dark, and contains notes of molasses, cinnamon, and plenty of spices.
During my stay, I was lucky enough to arrange a private tour of the Gosling’s manufacturing facility in Hamilton, Bermuda, which is normally off-limits to tourists. Here, in this surprisingly small underground plant, is where all Gosling’s rum around the world passes through. The raw ingredients are trucked in by the thousands of liters, and loaded into large stainless steel vats, where the blending process takes place. An interesting fact regarding Black Seal is that it is not distilled on the island, but rather blended from a wide range of imported rums, combined here with a secret mix of ingredients to produce the final product.
While they maintain a bottling facility in-house as seen below, this is just to serve the island itself. The Gosling’s sold in the North America is actually exported in bulk, and bottled at a facility in Kentucky.
A view of some of the equipment and tanks used in the creation of Gosling’s Black Seal. The machines in the center fill and label the bottles, allowing them to be boxed up for shipping.
Meet Kennith Simmons, who has been crafting Gosling’s rum now for over 40 years, personally mixing each batch and ensuring it meets the standards rum lovers around the world have come to expect from the premier Bermudan spirit brand. He explained how despite changes in suppliers, the Gosling’s family who still owns and operates the business to this day, has kept the product as consistent as possible. Much like a fine blended scotch, keeping up production of product of the same quality and taste requires an expert knowledge of the process and the recipe used.
This is a tall order in itself, considering the Gosling’s brand has been around now for over 200 years. Shown here is a bottle of their “Family Reserve” rum, which is barrel aged (as pictured above) for a number of years before being individually tapped and bottled after reaching perfection. Family reserve, I was told, is best served as a sipping rum, due to the complex and rich flavor that only aging in oak barrels can produce.
A proper Bermudan Dark ‘n’ Stormy, served at the Docksider Bar in downtown Hamilton. The drink is a favorite among locals, and to keep up, Black Seal is kept in the bar wells, with Barritts ginger beer served on tap.
So where does this name come from, after all? The Dark ‘n’ Stormy moniker refers to the ominous dark “cloud” formed by the rum as it floats dangerously above the ginger beer, as though to represent a looming storm on the horizon. Because rum has a lighter density than water, it will continue to float until it is either stirred, or slowly mixes naturally. As some sailor famously spoke, the rum is the “color of a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under”.
Returning from Bermuda, I brought back a selection of rums to stock my home bar. With some back-lighting, you can see the dark mahogany and reddish hues of the otherwise black rum. The “Gosling’s Rum Deluxe” seen below is a Barbados style rum sold on Bermuda, but not exported to the United States, or elsewhere! I tried some with Guava juice to fantastic results- a light, sweet and delicious rum which pairs incredibly well with fruit flavors.
So, with summer right around the corner, stock up on the ingredients above, and plan to make some at your next party or family gathering–They are sure to be a hit with sailors and landlubbers alike.