The Dark ‘n Stormy is a canonized drink. The iconic blend of Goslings Black Seal Rum and ginger beer has been around for a long time, yet there are aspects of this drink that many of us know little about. For example, why ginger beer and not ginger ale? How necessary is the lime? And what does “black seal” mean, anyway?
These critical questions and more are answered on this week’s episode of the VinePair Podcast, where VinePair’s Adam Teeter, Erica Duecy, and co-host Zach Geballe are joined by Goslings brand director Andrew Holmes. In preparation for Dark ‘n Stormy Day on June 23, Holmes shares the history of the brand, and offers his recommendations for mixing the perfect Dark ‘n Stormy at home.
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Adam: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica: From Connecticut, I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Goslings Black Seal Rum. Before we get into the conversation today about the Dark ‘n Stormy and Dark ‘n Stormy Day which is coming up June 23, 2020, I wanted to talk about something that’s happening next week here at VinePair on June 24 through June 26, which is the VinePair Great Drinks Experience.
A: That “yay,” Erica?
E: That’s a legitimate “yay!”
Z: I don’t know that sounded like a “Yay, I have so much work to do for it.”
A: I know. It was. It’s going to be great, though. I’m excited about it.
Z: Can you share some details?
A: I can share a ton of people we’re talking with. There’s going to be a bunch of really amazing sessions. We’ll have a session on seltzer cocktails for trade with Truly that Erica will be leading. We’re doing another session with Truly for consumers about what made seltzer so big in the first place. I’m going to be having a conversation with Dwayne Wade to understand how he fell in love with wine and what made him want to start his own winery, Wade Cellars, which is going to be on Thursday night at 6:30, so you should not miss that. We’re going to be talking to a bunch of other amazing producers: a winery in Argentina, several people associated with Ribera Rueda. It’s going to be an awesome few days of drinks information and fun.
Z: Very cool. For those of use who would be interested in attending for Truly, how do we do that?
A: You can go to VinePair.com and there will be links for the Great Drinks Experience. Just search VinePair’s Great Drinks Experience in Google. It’ll come right up first in the search. Look at the sessions calendar and RSVP to as many as you want to attend. The sessions are free, which is important to mention. You don’t have to pay anything to attend. All sessions have shopping lists attached to them, so they’ll tell you the things that are recommended to buy if you want to drink along during each session. Besides that, you can RSVP, tune in, and hang out with us for each session that you’re interested in. If you attend three or more sessions, we’re going to send you a really awesome VinePair Great Drinks Experience tote bag. All you have to do to prove that you attended each session is to log in and attend the session. The software we’re using will record that you’ve attended. We’ll reach out to you at the end of the festival, get your shipping address, and send you a tote bag. Or a T-shirt, actually!
A: Your choice. I’m pumped! It’s the first for us. We want to do something in quarantine, so we’ve been planning it for a few months. It’s going to launch in the next week and a half or so.
A: It’s going to be big, guys! It’s going to be big. Before we jump into this conversation with Andrew from Goslings Black Seal Rum and learn more about the Dark ‘n Stormy, I want to hear about your impressions of the Dark ‘n Stormy.
E: From my perspective, I always thought the Dark ‘n Stormy was such a refreshing cocktail. I first started drinking them pretty early out of college. For a number of years, that was my signature go-to cocktail at a bar. The nice thing about the Dark ‘n Stormy is although some people make them right, some people make them wrong, others use supporting ingredients or different types of rum, they always turn out pretty well. It’s a solid cocktail that you can order in a dive bar or in a more high-end cocktail experience. They always taste pretty good.
A: It’s just a delicious cocktail.
Z: My association with the Dark ‘n Stormy initially was as a winter cocktail. I thought of it as the rum drink you have in the winter.
Z: Yes. What’s funny is that for a lot of people, it’s a summer cocktail, or even a late spring to early fall cocktail. I get it. It’s got rum in it and most people associate rum with sunshine. It’s got ginger beer which to me is not a seasonal ingredient, but I drink the Dark ‘n Stormy more often in the winter. I tend to like rum drinks in the winter just as much as I do in the summer because they feel like an escape in a glass. That’s why I always associated them with winter time until people told me I was an idiot, which people do on a regular basis.
A: Why don’t we bring Andrew on right now and see if you’re an idiot?
Z: I don’t want to find out, Adam.
A: Let’s do it, then. Guys, I’m excited to bring on Andrew Holmes, the director for Goslings based in Bermuda here on the podcast today. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us.
Andrew: Thanks, Adam. It’s my pleasure to be here.
A: We’re talking about the Dark ‘n Stormy a lot today and what’s made it such an iconic cocktail. The easiest way to kick off this conversation is for you to give us the history of the cocktail in general. It goes back decades and decades and decades. There’s a legend that it was created by sailors. I’ve heard it was created helping with seasickness. I don’t have the full story. Can you give it to Zach, Erica, and me? That would be amazing.
AH: I’d be happy to share. The cocktail itself dates back to the 1920s. We’re talking pre-Prohibition era. It includes two signature ingredients: Goslings Black Seal Rum and then ginger beer. Ginger beer is a British tradition. It was introduced here to the island by the British Navy when stationed up on the west end of the island at the Royal Naval Dockyard. They began producing ginger beer in the dockyard, and it was used as a medicinal elixir to help cure stomach ailments, seasickness, and things like that. The ginger beer factory then began selling ginger beer to the local community, and it didn’t take long for the Bermudians to figure out what ginger beer was missing: a little bit of Goslings Black Seal Rum. When the rum floated on top of the ginger beer, it resembles a storm cloud. It wasn’t long after they began mixing the Black Seal Rum with ginger beer that the drink acquired the nickname, the Dark ‘n Stormy. There’s no one individual credited with naming the cocktail, but it does date back to around the 1920s or 1930s. It was officially trademarked on June 9, 1980. That’s when Goslings began first exporting rum from the island. The family has been making rum in Bermuda since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that they really got into the export side of the business.
Z: I have an important question about this drink. Should there be lime juice in it?
AH: That’s a really good question. Bermudians are known to have a bit of a sweeter palate here on the island. When you order a Dark ‘n Stormy in Bermuda, it’ll always be served with a wedge of lime. Therefore, it was your choice whether you squeeze in the wedge of lime or not. In my opinion, that little bit of citrus and acidity helps balance the sweetness of the ginger beer. I think a wedge of lime is a welcome ingredient in the cocktail. As I began traveling with Goslings and going to export markets, particularly the United Kingdom, you see bartenders squeezing half and ounce of lime juice into the cocktail. Again, it’s personal preference. I do like a little bit of lime, but too much lime changes the dynamic of the cocktail to the point where it’s almost a Ginger Daiquiri at points.
E: What would you say is the perfect recipe for a Dark ‘n Stormy?
AH: It starts with our Goslings Black Seal Rum and Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer. We developed Stormy Ginger Beer in 2009. That was a result as we began exporting, the rum, it was really hard to find good ginger beer in certain markets, particularly the United States. Typically here in Bermuda, if you ordered a Dark ‘n Stormy, you’d get anywhere from an ounce and a half to two ounces of Black Seal Rum, combined with four to six ounces of ginger beer.
A: Can I ask a stupid question for myself and our listeners out there, Andrew? What is ginger beer? I was on the phone with my mom last night, and my dad was making Dark ‘n Stormies. She was saying, “Oh, I love ginger ale!” But that’s not what ginger beer is. She then asked what it was, but I don’t actually think that I know. I know that it’s an important ingredient in the Dark ‘n Stormy and a few other cocktails as well, but I have no idea what it is.
AH: I like to describe ginger beer as ginger ale on steroids. Essentially it has a lot more ginger, a lot more sugar, and a lot more flavor. Ginger beer, as I mentioned, as a British tradition, was made in these stone flagons, big ceramic jugs. They would add ginger root, sugar, water, and yeast, and leave it to naturally ferment in a similar fashion to kombucha. That would create secondary fermentation with a little bit of carbon dioxide adding bubbles in the drink. Ginger ale is a wimpy version of ginger beer. It came after ginger beer. Canada Dry, one of the big well-known brands of ginger ale out there, their marketing strategy a few years ago included the phrase “Now made with real ginger.” Well, what was it made with before? With ginger beer, you taste the spiciness of that raw ginger root in the drink. Therefore, you need the sugar to balance the spice of the ginger root.
A: That makes sense. In terms of the Black Seal Rum in particular, you trademarked the recipe. There’s a lot of protection in terms of how the official Dark ‘n Stormy is made. What is it that makes the rum so special? Why is it that it isn’t really a Dark ‘n Stormy unless it’s made with Goslings? I’ve only ever had it made with Goslings. I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening to the podcast who’ve done it with other rum brands that we won’t mention here. What is it about the rum that makes it perfect for this drink? Can you tell us a little bit about how the rum is made? You’re not actually distilling it in Bermuda, right? You’re blending it.
AH: Exactly. We do the blending here on the island. I’ll start by saying, there are a number of rums that are absolutely delicious with ginger beer. The trademark protection is to the name, Dark ‘n Stormy. Goslings, when they trademarked it in 1980 were never trying to discourage other rums from mixing with ginger beer. However, visitors will come to the island and enjoy a Dark ‘n Stormy. They go back to their hometown and order a Dark ‘n Stormy, and they want it to resemble the flavor that they enjoy in Bermuda. It’s really about protecting the integrity of the cocktail. The rum itself is very unique. As I mentioned, we don’t distill in Bermuda. Bermuda is 21 square miles and now inhabited by over 60,000 people. There’s not enough land here to grow the quantity of sugar cane that you would need to produce a substantial amount of rum. When the Goslings arrived here in the early 1800s, in 1806, they realized there wasn’t enough land to cultivate cane. In 1809, the British Navy began production on the dockyard on the west end of Bermuda. There was then demand for rum on the island. Similar to the Navy, Goslings began sourcing rum from all over the West Indies and experimenting with blending and aging the rums in Bermuda. The first rum arrived in the mid-1800s, and it was sold on draft. If you wanted to get Goslings Black Seal, we didn’t have a bottling facility. You would have to go to the liquor store with your own bottle, and they would fill it up out of the bottle that the rum was aging in. They then began to recycle once-used Champagne bottles, which they got from their No. 1 clients in Bermuda, the British Navy. They took Champagne bottles from the dockyard back to their shop located in the city of Hamilton and began to bottle the rum in the once-used Champagne bottles, corking them, and using black wax to seal the cork on the top of the bottle. Originally, the rum was known as Old Rum. It got the nickname Black Seal from the wax seal on the top of the cork. It wasn’t until the 1960s when a man by the name of Francis Gosling illustrated the juggling seal as a play on words. Currently we bottle rum here on the island, and we blend different rums from islands in the West Indies. We source rums from Jamaica, from Trinidad, Barbados, and from Guyana, and then all blended here on the island.
Z: Aged on the island as well?
AH: We do aging on the island for some of our premium expressions, the Reserve Old Rum as well as the Seal, which is a single-barrel product. Over the years, rum was all transported in the oak barrels. A lot more aging would have been done on the island for the black seal blend. Now the aging is done at the distilleries in the West Indies. The rum is shipped in stainless-steel 20,000-liter tanks from the West Indies through New Jersey to Florida to Bermuda. It arrives with barrel aging already. The benefit of that is that the rum gets to mature in the beautiful tropical climate right at the distiller. Once it reaches Bermuda, it’s ready for blending. We bottle rum in Bermuda for domestic consumption, and then rum that we export is shipped out to New Jersey and bottled in three different locations in Kentucky, Montreal, and also Holland, and distributed around the world.
A: Just so I’m clear: Some of the rum blending is being blended not in Bermuda. You could be blending in Kentucky, and then shipping from there? Or were you saying that it’s all blended back in Bermuda and then shipped again?
AH: Every drop is blended here in Bermuda and is done by a team of three people.
AH: It really keeps the quality control there. It’s blended and shipped in bulk off the island to be bottled in export.
A: That’s amazing that it comes from the islands through New Jersey, over to Bermuda, that it gets blended, and then goes back to the United States and out across the world. That’s really unbelievable.
AH: It’s our own little Bermuda Triangle.
A: That is nuts.
Z: I apologize. This could be a slightly sacrilegious question. I apologize for that. If you were to consider adding another ingredient to the Dark ‘n Stormy besides lime juice, is there anything else you can combine with the Goslings Black Seal Rum and the Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer, is it just, leave them alone.
AH: That is all down to personal preference. I’ll give you an example. I was in a bar in Winnipeg, Canada, in the middle of the prairies. It’s the month of February. Everyone was asking if I’d done something wrong and was being punished for being sent to Winnipeg. We were in the bar that made a Thai-spiced ginger beer. It was their own house-made ginger beer, and they made their Dark ‘n Stormies with our Goslings Black Seal Rum. It was absolutely delicious. This gives you an example that you can use other spices that enhance the ginger flavor without changing the real character of the cocktail. I’ve seen cinnamon and other spices like that added whether through a syrup or garnish. I’ve had Angostura Bitters added to a Dark ‘n Stormy. A little bit of the bitters really helps to bring all of the flavors together. In Bermuda, another common ingredient in the Dark ‘n Stormy mix is a little bit of pineapple juice. It’s a fun way to twist it a little bit but not change the cocktail too much.
E: That sounds like a lot of fun! Actually, in preparation for this episode, I sent my husband to the liquor store, so I’ll soon have a Dark ‘n Stormy in my hand. Now I will have a bottle of Goslings, and I’ve certainly had many before, but now that I will have this bottle of Goslings Black Seal Rum in my hand, how would you suggest that I use it? What other cocktails do you like to use this particular expression of rum in?
AH: That’s a really good question. One of the challenges we’re up against in promoting Goslings Black Seal Rum is that it’s become the rum for Dark ‘n Stormies, when in reality, the rum itself is extremely versatile. Some people are intimidated by a black rum. They don’t really know what to do with it. They mix it with Coke. We know it goes well with ginger beer. If you ask an Bermudian, they will have a hundred different ways you can use Goslings Black Seal Rum. I’ll give you an example that’s quite extreme. Bloody Marys with vodka. By the time you spice up that drink with the Tabasco and Worcestershire and all that, you’re not tasting the vodka. In Bermuda, locals love to make Bloody Marys with Black Seal Rum. That rich flavor from the rum, the molasses, is a really nice contrast to the acidity of the tomato and the spiciness of the drink. We also have another dish in Bermuda called Bermuda Fish chowder, which is not like a New England chowder. There’s no cream in it, but it’s made from the rack of the fish, boiled down with vegetables, tomatoes, onions, and, of course, Goslings Black Seal Rum. When you cook the rum in the soup, all the rum evaporates. When they serve you the drink at the table, they come around with a little splash of Black Seal Rum and garnish it right at the tableside. We use it in literally everything down here. The Coladas. You’re never going to get a Piña Colada made with white rum in Bermuda. Go for the Black Seal. That rich flavor is a nice contrast for creaminess, coconut, and pineapple. It really works very well. Some people are intimidated by the black rum, but it’s extremely versatile. Malcolm Gosling, who’s my boss, a seventh-generation executive officer of Goslings International, his favorite libation with Black Seal Rum is just mixed with fresh grapefruit juice. It’s incredible. It’s that simple: Black Seal Rum, fresh grapefruit juice. That’s one of his favorite ways to enjoy it.
A: I have one last question for you, Andrew. What glassware should I have in order to make a Dark ‘n Stormy? Is it up to my personal preference? Do you suggest that it should be in a Collins glass? Can I use a pint glass? Do I do a rocks glass? If there is one perfect glassware serving what would it be?
AH: That is a really good question. It does vary depending on where you order it. My opinion: I like the Dark ‘n Stormy in a Collins-style glass. It’s long. It’s elegant. It gives an opportunity to float the rum on top of the ginger beer, and it looks really stunning. A Legal Seafoods, a seafood chain that used to serve in the Boston area, used to serve their Dark ‘n Stormy in a Bordeaux-style wine glass. You’d see these going out in a restaurant and they’d have a sugarcane skewer to stir up the cocktail with because the rum is floated on top. When people see that type of drink come out, with rum on top, it’s really stunning. It really intrigues them to order some more. So, I think a taller glass is better. However, if you go to a dive bar in Bermuda and order a Dark ‘n Stormy, they’re probably going to serve it to you in a rock glass. It’s built like any other highball. But in my opinion, a Collins glass is the ideal vessel for the Dark ‘n Stormy.
A: Awesome. Andrew, thank you so much for coming on, telling us a little bit more about the Dark ‘n Stormy, and giving Erica, Zach, and me a little bit more background. We’ll take these history tidbits that you gave us and share them with others. I’m definitely going to drink some Dark ‘n Stormies this weekend.
An.: Awesome. Thank you very much. It was fun to be on here together.
A: That was interesting.
Z: For sure.
E: I just heard the car pull up, so I know I have Dark ‘n Stormy ingredients waiting for me right now.
A: That’s pretty amazing. I have to say that, a lot of the story, I wasn’t familiar with. I always thought it was called Black Seal because there was a black seal on the label with his nose touching the barrel. I never realized they used to seal the rum with black wax. I should’ve realized that, but I had not. I’m glad he shared that with us. I never realized where the name came from, which is the drink looking like a storm cloud floating on top of the ginger beer. Now I will always make it in a Collins glass.
Z: This is actually a really important point. When done correctly, when the rum is floated, it has such a cool visual presence in the glass. I wish we would get back to the day when layering cocktails wasn’t seen as a cheap gimmick. It got overboard. As a bartender, I didn’t particularly enjoy the occasional Tequila Sunrise I had to make as a bartender. But it is really cool that you can use the different weights of the ingredients. And it only takes a little bit of time. You just float it over the back of a spoon. It’s not that hard to do, and it looks so cool. If you’re like me, a dork, you can watch it in motion, as the drink slowly merges together, like putting cream in coffee but with booze, so way better. I love it. If you make one at home, it only takes an extra 10 second to float the rum.
A: OK, Mr. Geballe. You talk about it like it’s so easy, and we didn’t ask Mr. Geballe how to do this. Can you explain how to float? Wait. I don’t need you to explain. Erica, the person who actually wrote a cocktail book, can you explain how to float a spirit on top of the ginger beer?
E: Yes! Just like Zach is saying, it’s pretty easy. Just fill up the glass with ice and ginger beer. Then, all you’re trying to do is to keep the layers separate. You want to diffuse the weight of rum as you’re pouring it in. Just do it over the back of the spoon. You pour it really slowly and then the two different densities of the liquid will keep them relatively separate. As you’re starting to drink it, if you have the sugar cane skewer that was mentioned or a spoon or whatever you have to stir it, it’s fun to watch it. It’s very similar to cream and coffee and watching those patterns. It’s a little added visual that’s a great idea.
A: I just hold the spoon over the top of the glass scoop-side down, and then I just pour the rum on the back of the spoon and it just drizzles over all sides of the spoon?
E: Yes. Just do it slowly.
A: Wow. Easy. That sounds pretty dope. You wouldn’t mix it together, then? You wouldn’t mix it in the glass. You would just drink it and let it mix together in my mouth?
E: I would mix it.
A: Right, because if not, you’ll just get a whole ton of rum. It’s just to give it to the person at the beginning
E: Yes. It’s just the presentation. It’s just the visual appeal.
A: And then mix it together?
A: And then add lime if you want. Or don’t add a wedge of lime if you don’t want to.
E: Yes, I’m a fan of lime. I would go lime.
A: Remember him talking about how it was served in Bermuda? There’s this bar in lower Manhattan that we used to go to a long time ago that was really close to the water that used to do a lot of Dark ‘n Stormies. What I’m used to being served out of is crappy, clear plastic cups. That’s how they would serve it to you. It was delicious nonetheless. It didn’t really bother me. I didn’t think anything of it. I probably had one or two too many. It’s interesting to think that you can take it from a low-brow setting and it’s delicious to high-brow and high-presentation with the rum. It’s still just really, really, really tasty.
Z: That’s the hallmark of a great cocktail. Any great cocktail, even if you use not-great ingredients, or it’s made quickly and sloppily, it should still taste all right. If it’s made with a lot of care and the best possible ingredients, it should taste better. A cocktail that only can be made by the masters, that’s cool, I guess, but that’s not a “great” cocktail. That’s an interesting niche cocktail.
A: I agree.
E: That’s a fight for another day.
A: This has been an awesome, awesome, awesome discussion. Erica, I am jealous that you have Dark ‘n Stormies on your immediate horizon. I’m going to get some Goslings Black Seal Rum very soon so that I can at least have a Dark ‘n Stormy on Dark ‘n Stormy Day June 23. Guys, have a great time drinking Dark ‘n Stormies.
Z: Sounds great.
E: Take care.
A: Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits: VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.