The Dark and Stormy is a classic rum based cocktail popular across the world. It is served long yet is still considered to be a serious cocktail. Unlike some other tall, sweet offerings which are a little harder to take seriously. Yes, I’m looking at you, Sex on the Beach.
The Dark and Stormy is the national cocktail of the Caribbean island of Bermuda. In much the same way that the Piña Colada is the national cocktail of Puerto Rico. At its heart it is a mix between a solid dark Bermudan rum and ginger beer. Though as I’ll go into below there is significant variety of ingredients regarding what constitutes a “genuine” Dark and Stormy.
The Dark and Stormy is simple to make and as such is easily made both at home and in bulk without losing quality. This unlikely combination has helped propel it to long term popularity. It would never get into a top ten of best or even most popular cocktails in the world. But it might make a top twenty. Instead it is one of those “safe options” in a bar. By that I mean that when you go into a “cocktail” bar of dubious quality it is a drink you feel safe ordering. It’s good enough. And so hard to screw up making one you’d really have to try quite hard to fail at it.
A Little History
The story of the Dark and Stormy begins in Bermuda. Likely in the 19th century. Sources differ regarding the timing. Regardless, Bermuda was part of the British Empire during the period when the Royal Navy ruled the waves. The Royal Navy were keen to improve the health of their sailors when at sea and so experimented with various additions to their standard rations. One of these was Rose’s Lime Cordial, to help combat scurvy. Which led to the creation of the Gimlet.
Another was to brew ginger beer. A carbonated beverage produced from fermenting root ginger, sugar and water and other optional ingredients. Ginger beer is typically non-alcoholic today, though might have originally been as alcoholic as regular beer. It was restricted to a maximum 2% abv by a law of 1855. Why the Royal Navy brewed ginger beer is not entirely clear. Perhaps they thought the palate cleansing ginger taste something of a health tonic for their sailors. Regardless, it proved popular so they chose to contract for commercial scale brewing of the beverage. The location chosen was on the island of Bermuda.
Also on the island of Bermuda was the Gosling’s family rum distillery. They experimented with their rums to produce several variants. One of which has survived to this day as Gosling’s Black Seal rum. This particular rum is a dark black colour and tastes of vanilla, butterscotch and caramel. But not of treacle or molasses, as for comparable dark Jamaican rums. So though so dark a rum as to be black, it is not *too* heavy or overpowering in its flavour. A good balance.
Naturally at some point these two ingredients were mixed, and the Dark and Stormy was born. Though exactly when is disputed. But according to legend it wasn’t given the name we now know it by until after World War I. By a sailor who noted that the drink’s colour was that of “a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under”.
As stated, the core ingredients of the Dark and Stormy are dark rum and ginger beer.
If you want to make a Dark and Stormy in a bar and call it that, you really should use Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Partly since there really isn’t anything else like it out there of both similar taste and colour. And partly because Gosling’s have always been pretty strict on the litigation front…
In one bar I worked in the owner wanted to use a cheaper rum to make the Dark and Stormy. We got that lighter rum in anyway to make Mojitos and likely wouldn’t use the Gosling’s for anything else. So if we could get away without stocking it, why not? I explained that not only would that change the taste quite a bit it would also hugely change the colour. So unless he wanted to call it a “Light and Stormy” he would really have to get the proper stuff in. He accepted this argument, and brought in the Gosling’s. We went through so much of it it was definitely worth it.
Having said that, if you’re making it at home, go ahead and use whatever you want. No-one’s going to hold you to arbitrary standards. But I’d still suggest using a darker rum if possible.
It is my view that the Dark and Stormy should be made with (non-alcoholic) ginger beer. However, some recipes call for ginger ale instead. Originally the difference between the two was that ginger beer was a fermented beverage while ginger ale was not. Though nowadays they are typically both not. Instead, ginger beer is cloudy and imparts a much more intense ginger tang compared to ginger ale. To my mind this makes it far superior to ginger ale in both the taste and colour appropriate for a Dark and Stormy.
The original recipe for a Dark and Stormy may have been just Gosling’s Dark Seal rum and ginger beer. But it really isn’t the case anymore. A modern Dark and Stormy also tends to include both freshly squeezed lime juice and Angostura Bitters. To my mind these are essential ingredients needed to round out the drink and give it extra zing. To convert it from being a spirit and mixer into a real cocktail. They are now generally considered to be standard ingredients. Though you will always find someone out there who disagrees.
Another ingredient often added is sugar syrup. This is added to effect the drink’s Balance of Sour. Making it sweeter. Or just smoothing off the sour edge produced by the addition of lime juice. I consider its use to be purely a matter of personal taste. If you’re finding the way I suggest making a Dark and Stormy a little sour for your tastes, try adding a dash. Or alternatively add less lime juice.
Lastly, for those who really like the gingery zing of the Dark and Stormy, this can be enhanced in different ways. By swapping the brand of ginger beer you’re using for a more gingery version. Adding ginger syrup in place of sugar syrup (if you do). Or by adding some fresh root ginger. This works best with the muddled version (see below).
Dark and Stormy
There are two common methods for making a Dark and Stormy. Built and muddled. Both are acceptable. Both use the same ingredients. The only difference is how you add the fresh lime juice. If you have access to a Mexican Elbow then I’d advise the Built method – it’s far more efficient. But if you don’t then the muddled method is fine. Either way, start with a highball glass or similar.
For the built method, start by filling it with cubed ice. Pour in *some* ginger beer – maybe one third of the glass full. Then add: a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters; two shots Gosling’s Black Seal rum; and the freshly squeezed juice of half a lime (to taste). Then top up with ginger beer, give it a very quick stir and serve. Very simple, and easy to scale up to making it by the jug if needed.
For the muddled method, drop your sliced pieces of lime (still usually 1/2 a lime) into the glass. If you’re using them, add your sugar/ginger syrup and/or root ginger at this point too. Muddle them together. Then fill the glass with crushed ice. This is far easier to churn than cubed ice, and with pieces of lime stuck to the bottom of the glass, you’ll need to churn. Then add all of the same other ingredients as before, churn and serve. This method is similar to the way you would make a Mojito. It has the similar drawback that you have to make each one individually. Plus it takes more time and effort. Because of this it is not my preferred method, but still works just fine.