This summer, the top sailors and fastest ships from around the world will convene on the fishhook-shaped island of Bermuda to compete in the 35th America’s Cup.
From May 26 through June 27, multi-million-dollar yachts will race through Bermuda’s cerulean Great Sound, an event culminating in the savagely competitive final duel between a challenger and the defender, Oracle Team USA.
When the seamen and women retire from the Royal Naval Dockyard for an evening drink, the beverage they’ll most likely have in hand is the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, the unofficial drink of Bermuda and of the global boating and sailing community.
A highball made of spicy ginger beer and rich Gosling’s Black Seal dark rum, the drink allegedly got its name from an old sailor who compared the drink’s murky hue to the color of storm clouds. It’s an unproven legend, but the drink’s connection to the joys and dangers of seafaring is well-established.
Bermuda, where the Dark ‘n’ Stormy was invented, is known as the shipwreck capital of the world, with 300 identified vessels lying ruined at the bottom of the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean. This title owes less to supernatural phenomena or storms than to Bermuda’s 200 square miles of coral reef, which shredded the hulls of ships.
In 1806, the Mercury, a chartered English clipper commandeered by James Gosling managed to avoid that fearsome coral reef, steering the ship onto Bermuda’s shores after 91 days at sea, their charter having run out.
The Goslings would become one of the most prominent families on the island, entering the rum production business in 1857. Ginger beer, another favorite drink of the British, was also produced on the island, among other places at a factory operated as a subsidiary to the Royal Naval Officer’s Club.
It didn’t take a genius to realize that Gosling’s molasses-y Black Seal rum (named for the wax used to seal bottles) was the perfect compliment to the piquant bite of ginger beer. The Dark ‘n’ Stormy was born.
At Harry’s, a popular watering hole and seafood restaurant for Bermuda power players, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy remains the most frequently ordered cocktail today.
Like much else on the island, the waterfront venue has ties to maritime history. According to owner William Cox, the place is named for his father, a well-known diver who spent much of his life trying to locate three shipwrecks belonging to the family ancestors, who first arrived in the 1620s.
Visitors to the Cox family dinner table included Jacques Cousteau. Come this May, Cox won’t be surprised to see world-class Cup sailors alongside amateurs sidling up to his bar to order Bermuda’s classic highball.
“It’s the recognized drink for anyone in the boating world,” says Cox. “You don’t just have to be a sailor. Any true mariner is always happy to cross the rhumb line and have a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.”
Dark ‘n’ Stormy
Riffs on this drink abound, but to be legally considered a Dark ‘n Stormy, it must be made with Black Seal rum made by Gosling’s, which has trademarked the cocktail’s name.
2 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal rum
4-5 ounces ginger beer
Fill Collins glass with cubed ice, add rum and ginger beer, stir and garnish with lime wedge or wheel.
Christopher Ross is a Philadelphia-based journalist writing for publications including the Wall Street Journal Magazine, Travel + Leisure and Bloomberg Pursuits.