Here’s something that no one tells you when you start home-bartending: sometimes that outrageous disaster of a drink isn’t your fault. Especially when rum is involved.
On my personal liquor-nerd journey, that important bit of information came via Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s essential Sippin’ Safari. Written as a guide to creating authentic tiki drinks, the softcover is also a great primer to cocktail-making for novices.
Consider, for example, Berry’s advice on the essential ingredient that is lime juice: “Always, always, always squeeze your own juice from fresh limes. Bottled lime juice is going to ruin your drink, no matter what the label promises. There is no way around this: If you’re making drinks for 200 guests, you’ll have to squeeze 200 limes. We don’t like it any more than you do, but there it is.”
By the way, while Berry references bottled lime juice, now’s also a good time to throw away the RealLime in that plastic container designed to look like a real lime.
Where Sippin’ Safari unlocks one of the keys to bartending is on the most essential of tiki-drink ingredients: rum. Remember that pre-pandemic time you muled back those three bottles of Trois Rivières Rhum Blanc Agricole from Paris? And how, after dutifully mixing up Mai Tais with your own house-made orgeat syrup, simple syrup, fresh lime, orange Curaçao, and Appleton Estate Extra, you ended up with something that tasted like an agave-flavoured tire fire? That wasn’t your fault—it was the rum’s.
More so than whiskey, vodka, and gin, rums can be wildly different in their flavour profiles. So while an authentic Mai Tai calls for agricole rum (which remains maddeningly impossible to find in British Columbia—thanks, government monopoly!), you also have to pay attention what kind of agricole rum. Because Trois Rivières Rhum Blanc Agricole has an almost tequila-like, vegetal earthiness to it, it’s absolutely no substitute for Rhum St. James Hors d’Age or Rhum Clément VSOP (all of which are impossible to find in stupid British Columbia—thanks, government monopoly!!).
Berry sums up the importance of rum like this: “Tropical mixologists did not capriciously call for different types of rums in their recipes. If they specified a particular brand or rum-producing region, it’s because that brand or region gave the drink its unique character. We feel your financial pain, but urge you to honour the recipes: A drink that sings with a Haitian rum will likely croak with a Puerto Rican.”
There are drinks so specific that only one kind of rum will do if going the liquor-nerd purist route. Consider the Painkiller, which has been trademarked by Pusser’s Royal Navy Rum (a brand which is impossible to find in British Columbia liquor stores—thanks, goddamn government monopoly!!!).
Today, however, we’re going to talk the Dark ’n Stormy, which originated in Bermuda but, come the fall season around these parts, might as well be British Columbia’s national drink.
Like the Painkiller, the Dark ’n’ Stormy has been trademarked, in this case by Gosling’s. Periodically, blogs, restaurants, and competing rum sites have suggested using a dark rum other than Gosling’s in the cocktail, only to receive a letter from the company’s corporate lawyers. You either use Gosling’s in your Dark ’n Stormy or you call the drink something else. Like a Grey Skies, Blacker Moods, and Soul-Sucking Angst. Or Dear Christ Jesus Will It Ever Stop Pissing Buckets?
The Gosling’s version of a Dark ’n Stormy calls for just two ingredients: 1.5 oz of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum topped by 4 to 5 oz of Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer in a tall glass filled with ice. A lime wedge is optional.
At the risk of enraging the lawyers at Gosling’s, there are a couple of easy ways to make a good drink brilliant. Start with making your own ginger simple syrup by taking a 4 oz chunk of fresh ginger, cutting it into slices, boiling with one cup of water for 10 minutes, and then adding a cup of sugar.
From there, the right ginger beer is the key. You’ll have as much luck getting hold of Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer in these parts as you will Pusser’s Rum or Rhum Clement VSOP at a government liquor store.
Steer clear of Canada Dry, President’s Choice, or Schweppes ginger ale, all of which fall under the umbrella of Bland Enough for the Masses.
What you want is a ginger beer with a bit of kick, bite, and burn. Reed’s will do in pinch, but spend some extra money and upgrade to Fentiman’s Botanically Brewed Ginger Beer—usually to be found in the aisles of your friendly neighbourhood food co-op.
Even better, and available at big-barn outlets like No Frills, is Old Tyme’s Great Jamaican Ginger Beer. Like wasabi, it’ll clear out your sinuses and make your eyes water if ingested quickly enough.
Finally, at the risk of offending purists, juice a lime. Then grab a glass and sit back. Watch the black fall skies of the West Coast burst open wide; marvel at the way the rain falls with a relentlessly grim, Seven-like ferocity; and think about how—against all conventional thinking—the October and November monsoons make you glad you live here.
Dark 'N Stormy (B.C. Edition)
1.5 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
1/2 oz ginger syrup
1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
3 oz Old Tyme ginger beer
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add all ginger beer, bitters, lime, and syrup to a tall glass filled with ice. Float rum on top and garnish with a lime wedge.