The Perfect Drink for Summer Nights

Paul Blow

The Dark ’n’ Stormy can ease the sweaty ennui of midsummer nights. This I know from the many hours during my 20s in Austin, Texas, when, after the mosquitoes had retired, the roommates and I would adjourn from our unairconditioned rental to the plastic Adirondack chairs on the front lawn. There we’d sit in the hot night, with our icy cocktails, listening to jazz ooze through the screen door and watching the neighborhood cats saunter by. It was good drinkin’ weather, as the South can offer best. Come to think of it, the rental did have window air-conditioning units, but we were too cheap to use them except in the direst of heat.

We were not too cheap, however, to afford good ingredients for our Dark ’n’ Stormies, a cocktail that has seen a surge in popularity the past few years. There aren’t many parts to the drink—dark rum, ginger beer, and ice—but skimping on the ingredients is less satisfying than having no drink at all.

Despite its evocative, seafaring name, there’s not a particularly dramatic or romantic history behind the Dark ’n’ Stormy, Bermuda’s national drink. Like the Negroni with Campari, it’s one of the rare cocktails inextricably tied to one brand, in this case Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. A barrel-aged, almost coffee-colored liquor, Black Seal has a sugary character accented by deep char notes of roasted coffee. It also has notes of cola, cinnamon, allspice, and ripe fruit.

The largest export of Bermuda, Gosling’s is actually composed of rums made and aged around the Caribbean and then assembled in Bermuda. Its black seal (today punningly represented on the bottle by a literal picture of a dark-colored sea mammal) originated when the fledgling Gosling’s spirit company used empty champagne bottles sealed with dark wax to ship their product. The company has also trademarked the term Dark ’n’ Stormy, and no other dark rum really works in the drink: I’ve tried Cruzan, Coruba (particularly vile), and others, but none seems to do the trick.

Likewise, a spicy ginger brew is necessary, and Bermuda’s ginger beers are not typically as well-known for this trait as Jamaica’s. However, there is one Bermudan ginger beer that’s almost too spicy to drink straight: Barritt’s. And it turns out that when Gosling’s trademarked the Dark ’n’ Stormy at the U.S. patent office, this was the ginger beer it designated as the mixer. Back in Texas in the ’90s, we only had Reed’s, which makes an OK D’n’S. But once I got my hands on Barritt’s, that was it.

So here’s how I make it: Fill a glass with ice, and pour in ginger beer, leaving enough headspace for two ounces of Gosling’s Black Seal. Gently float the rum on top of the ginger beer, to visually emphasize that dark/stormy dichotomy. It looks good for presentation, but the drink should be stirred before consumption. It’s become popular to squeeze lime in (that’s how it’s done at Cantina in San Francisco, where I pull the occasional shift), but the official recipe doesn’t call for it. I think the drink tastes better without it: two adjectives in the name, two ingredients, and lots of lazy summer evenings.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.