As we move closer to monsoon season in the Valley of the Sun, I’m starting to think about mixing up my favorite mid-summer cocktail: the Dark ‘n Stormy.
As legend has it, Royal Naval Officers stationed in Bermuda around the time of World War I would add dark rum to ginger beer in order to help them combat seasickness. The Dark ‘n Stormy was named after a sailor famously remarked that the drink resembled the “color of a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under.”
My first experience with the drink was at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix several years ago and I immediately fell in love with it. It was a hot summer evening and the drink paired perfectly with a cigar enjoyed on the secluded back patio.
On the surface, it seems pretty easy to make: a shot of Gosling’s Black Seal rum over ice topped off with ginger beer (add a splash of lime juice or acid phosphate if you want to get fancy). It literally has to be Gosling’s for it to be a true Dark ‘n Stormy as they have trademarked the name.
Since there isn’t much room to debate which rum to use, the crucial ingredient becomes the ginger beer.
Three summers ago, Amy and I went on a quest to find the best mixer for a Dark ‘n Stormy and I’m going to save you the hassle (and sugar crash) and share my results. First off, it’s got to be ginger beer. Ginger ale is way too sweet and mild for this drink. Second, I want to see ginger sediment in the bottle! A variety with high ginger content gives you a nice burn that cuts the sweetness of the rum. Finally, it has to be made of high quality, simple ingredients. Rather than make some long, drawn-out list of the “top whatever” ginger beers, I’m going to cut to the chase and share my top pick up front:
Fever-Tree – 10/10
This stuff was created solely for mixing, which makes it a great companion to the dark, sweet rum. Made from a blend of ginger from Nigeria, Cochin and the Ivory Coast, Fever-Tree is the perfect way to enjoy a Dark ‘n Stormy. It’s a high quality mixer that is sweetened with natural sugars instead of the nasty stuff found in cheaper varieties (see below). It isn’t cloyingly sweet and the proof is in the sediment that gathers in the bottom (be sure to tip the bottle upside down before pouring). It has just the right burn and will make the perfect Dark ‘n Stormy every single time.
Others worth trying
If you are unable to find Fever-Tree or want to try another variety, these are a few that will do in a pinch:
Maine Root Ginger Brew – 9/10
This is another spicy option that might be a little easier to find. Some people might find it undrinkable on it’s own, which usually chalks up to a solid mixer. You’d be hard pressed to find a ginger beer with a shorter list of ingredients (organic cane juice, ginger juice and lemon zest), which makes this a great option for those who like to keep things simple.
Cock ‘n Bull – 8/10
This goes great in a Moscow Mule (the vodka version of a Dark ‘n Stormy), which isn’t too surprising as the company invented the drink back in 1946. It also goes great with the rum version. While a little sweeter than the previous two, it still has a good ginger kick.
Gosling’s – 7.5/10
After years of an unofficial partnership with Barritt’s, the rum maker decided it was time to expand profits and make their own mixer, Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer. It’s not horrible, but my main complaint is the beverage is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Furthermore, it’s missing my beloved ginger burn.
The rest of them…
There were others that we tried for good measure, but in all honestly they kind of got lost in the fray. Several that come to mind are Fentimans, Bundaberg, Saranac, and Ginger People. They were middle-of-the-road offerings that weren’t horrible, but were not as good as the aforementioned. There were two that really disappointed us:
Barritt’s – 5/10
Purists will probably destroy me for this one, seeing a lot of enthusiasts hail this the original ginger beer for a Dark ‘n Stormy. Like Gosling’s, this is produced in Bermuda which is why it’s considered the standard for many. I just find it way too sweet and not spicy enough. I don’t get the kick of ginger some people claim this gives. If you like it, that’s awesome, it just vastly underperforms in my opinion.
Reed’s – 4/10
This belongs at the bottom of the list. It doesn’t belong near a cocktail glass, in my opinion. It is sickly sweet and misses the boat completely when it comes to the spicy flavor needed to make a quality cocktail. Skip it.
So that’s it for my comprehensive list of Dark ‘n Stormy ginger beer pairings. I’m going to head to the store and buy the only rum you can use without breaking the law.
Note: I have not received any products or compensation, although if Fever-Tree wants to send me a case of their Ginger Beer for “further research”, I would happily oblige.