Ready-to-drink cocktails are an accepted, major component of the modern alcohol ecosystem. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, the RTD market in the United States accounts for $18.2 billion in sales, and is the second largest segment by volume in the country, overtaking spirits and wine and trailing only beer. It would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, as the hard seltzer cannon that propelled the category wasn’t even constructed, let alone locked and loaded.
The trend goes back further than most realize, though. In Japan, canned whisky highballs doled out from ubiquitous vending machines and convenience stores were long a staple before American drinkers took notice. Perhaps the granddaddy of them all comes from an even more unexpected place: Bermuda. That’s right, good ole Goslings Rum, which traces its origins to 1806 and is now run by its eighth generation, delivered a prized local specialty to Bermudan consumers in the 1970s by selling the Dark ‘n Stormy in premixed, handheld fashion.
It was a natural adaptation for a rum brand, and a cocktail that had deep ties to its place of origin. “The consumers wanted it to take on the golf course, out on the boat, the ferry,” says Andrew Holmes, Goslings’ brand director. “They saw the portability of the Dark ‘n Stormy.”
The Dark ‘n Stormy’s Creation & Evolution
The Dark ‘n Stormy’s roots can be traced to the period after World War I, when the British Royal Navy, stationed in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda, built a ginger beer manufacturing facility to produce the elixir for sailors. It wasn’t long before that ginger beer was splashed in with the local rum, Goslings Black Seal.
“The cocktail quickly became a local favorite and almost a century later it is the most popular cocktail on the island, and is known as Bermuda’s National Cocktail,” says Malcolm Gosling Jr., the eighth-generation rum maker for the company.
The drink hadn’t traveled much beyond Bermuda’s turquoise waters, but for those who partook, it was a mainstay. “Nobody knew what the Dark ‘n Stormy was besides sailors on the East Coast and people in Bermuda,” Holmes says.
According to Gosling Jr., the RTD was then introduced in the ’70s in 28-ounce glass bottles at 15 percent ABV — a potent, large format for hard-drinking sailors, fishermen, and other salt-sprayed, sun-tanned locals. Over the years, the format was shifted to a 12-ounce can and the ABV was dropped to 9 percent.
On June 9, 1980, Goslings trademarked the Dark ‘n Stormy, first in Bermuda, before seeking that status in the United States and beyond. Yet, the move to trademark the drink wasn’t as much to codify the cocktail as it was to protect the product found on retail shelves.
“We did have the RTD in the local Bermuda market before we trademarked the cocktail, so it definitely helped our case,” Gosling Jr. says. He does add, though, that saying the trademark stemmed from RTD is “not exactly” how it went down. “The RTD helps reinforce our trademark on the cocktail by Goslings actively marketing the only Dark ‘n Stormy RTD available for sale,” he says.
“In the Mr. Potato Head school of thought, the Dark ’n Stormy is essentially a Rum ’n Coke where you’ve switched ginger beer for cola and a heavier rum for a lighter rum.”
The idea of a trademarked cocktail can create some turmoil within the cocktail community. “On the one hand, it’s understandable that a brand like Goslings would seek to retain the value of the strong association between its brand and the iconic highball,” says Matt Pietrek, Cocktail Wonk and author of “Modern Caribbean Rum.” “On the other hand, if you have a trademark, you must actively protect it. If you don’t, you can effectively lose control of it. Hell, Kleenex is a trademark, but nearly everyone treats it as a generic term.”
Protect it Goslings has, though. According to a passage written by Paul Clarke in “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails,” “the family has repeatedly turned to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to protect its claim.” That includes a 2015 dust-up in federal court in Massachusetts against Pernod Ricard.
While a true Dark ‘n Stormy must be made with Goslings, at its essence it’s a simple two-ingredient spirit and soda concoction in the vein of a Whiskey & Coke or Gin & Tonic. “In the Mr. Potato Head school of thought, the Dark ’n Stormy is essentially a Rum ’n Coke where you’ve switched ginger beer for cola and a heavier rum for a lighter rum,” Pietrek says.
Pietrek notes the irony of rum being a supposed laid-back spirit, evocative of tropical beaches and fun in the sun, yet somehow also a litigious realm. In the 1930s, Bacardí won a judgment that the Bacardí Cocktail had to be made with Bacardi, but the brand name is in the drink name, after all, which isn’t the case for the two cocktails he calls the poster children for today’s trademark controversies. “Make a Dark ‘n Stormy without Goslings or a Painkiller without Pusser’s, and watch the trademark haters beeline for their keyboards,” he says.
From Bermudan Beach Beverage to Multi-Billion Market
Trademarked or not, there’s no doubting the ubiquity of the Dark ‘n Stormy in Bermuda. It has its own holiday, of course — mark down June 9 for the annual celebration — and we all know those international drink days are super-serious business, and aren’t doled out in greater numbers than Netflix deals.
Joking aside, Goslings and its Dark ‘n Stormy are true Bermudan icons. “It’s beloved by locals, usually also their rum of choice for a Swizzle, and any other rum concoction they’re making,” says André Roberts, the director of food and beverage at The Loren at Pink Beach, a boutique hotel in Bermuda. “It’s very much widely available and any respectable bar will have Goslings in the well.”
“We never discontinued the RTD in the Bermuda market and launched the Dark ‘n Stormy RTD in our export markets in 2011. The RTD boom over the past few years in the U.S. allowed us to reevaluate the RTDs which resulted in a packaging revamp and line extensions.”
The Dark ‘n Stormy RTD never left the Bermuda market in the ensuing decades since it was first introduced, either.
“I personally enjoy them when out boating,” Roberts says. “Super cold in the hot sun, nothing better.” It just took the drinking public in the United States and beyond a bit of time to catch onto the brilliance of a portable, ready-to-go cocktail made with the quality ingredients you would have purchased and used separately otherwise.
“We never discontinued the RTD in the Bermuda market and launched the Dark ‘n Stormy RTD in our export markets in 2011,” Gosling Jr. says. The format now available matches current lower- ABV drinking trends, not to mention current tax schemes, coming in an 8.4-ounce can at 7.5 percent ABV — a far cry from a 28-ounce bottle at 15 percent. “The RTD boom over the past few years in the U.S. allowed us to reevaluate the RTDs, which resulted in a packaging revamp and line extensions,” Gosling Jr. adds.
In April of this year, Goslings overhauled its packaging and unveiled flavored varieties such as Pineapple, Mango, and Black Cherry. Holmes notes that he’s a Mango man himself, but that the Black Cherry is the top seller in the U.S. “It tastes like a Dr. Pepper,” he says.
Little did Goslings know that when the company bottled a near-liter of potent Dark ‘n Stormy cocktails to-go that it would portend an eventual multi-billion dollar industry.
“It’s funny, one thing we continue to notice is that ‘new’ trends are usually a reintroduction or a slight recreation of something from the past,” Gosling Jr. says. “We have been a family business for over 200 years, since 1806, and when a new craze comes around we can usually look back in the archives and find that we have done it before or something pretty close.”