How the Dark 'N Stormy Became Summer’s Most Litigious—And Consistent—Cocktail

Your favorite cocktail may change from bar to bar, but the Bermudan classic is required by law to be consistently good every time.
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Your favorite cocktail may change from bar to bar, but the Bermudan classic is required by law to be consistently good every time.
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The Dark 'N Stormy is one of the most oddly refreshing cocktails to come out of the early 20th century. A frothy mixture of dark rum and ginger beer, it is simple, soft, and strangely satisfying. But it has something that most drinks, when served a thousand different ways by a thousand different bartenders, sorely lack: It is legally prohibited to fuck up a Dark 'N Stormy.

The cocktail has been under the stewardship of Bermudan rum distributor Gosling Brothers Limited since its inception at the close of World War I. According to the company, British sailors on shore leave at the island were “big fans” of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and developed the cocktail by mixing the dark liquor with homemade ginger beer. The name allegedly came after a British soldier observing that the concoction resembled “the colour of a cloud that only a fool or a dead man would sail under.”

Using Gosling’s rum in the Dark 'N Stormy is no longer traditional: It’s the law. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the company filed two certificates with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after the cocktail enjoyed a “quiet resurgence” in New York City. The trademark dictates the exact ingredients in a legitimate Dark 'N Stormy: an ounce and a half of Black Seal rum and a dash of Gosling’s ginger beer in a highball glass.  

“We defend that trademark vigorously, which is a very time-consuming and expensive thing,” company president E. Malcolm Gosling Jr., told the Times. “That’s a valuable asset that we need to protect.”

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Courtesy of Gosling's

This isn’t the first time trademarking has roiled mixology circles—the Sazerac, Hand Grenade, and Painkiller are all trademarked, according to cocktail journal Difford’s Guide—but Gosling wasn’t screwing around. The company went after rum distributor Zaya when they suggested using their spirits in the drink in 2009. In 2012, it slapped mixology blog Inu a Kena with a cease and desist letter after writer Josh Miller suggested swapping in cheaper rum for Gosling’s.

“The reason why it is important to have a trademark for this cocktail is to ensure consistency of the taste of this cocktail,” Gosling spokesman Glenn Kelley told Maxim. “This trademark unfortunately has been violated a lot and by many different companies (big brands, smaller brands and brands in different spirits categories). This does take a lot of time to enforce but we are committed to administering and protecting the trademark.”

Whatever your opinion of Gosling’s litigiousness, Kelley is right about one thing: The Dark 'N Stormy, by virtue of its trademarking, is likely one of the most consistent cocktails on a bar’s menu. Everyone’s had the experience of ordering a terribly-made drink (with apologies to the late, great Jim Backus, apparently a lot can happen to an Old Fashioned), and there are few things more disappointing than gritting your teeth and downing some unbalanced, unmixed, tepid glass of $15 noxious filth. Gosling’s, by law, removes the risk of an wayward mixologist’s wayward experimentation from the equation.

This is somewhat shitty for bartenders on a few levels. It means that, should a limited supply of Gosling’s run out in the course of the night, a popular drink has to come off the menu even if there is a decent substitute on hand, which frustrates everyone. But on a more conceptual level, it prevents bartenders from putting their own personal (or institutional) flourish on a drink. For urban drinking holes looking to distinguish themselves from their boozy neighbors, this consistency can pose a problem.

If you love the classic Dark 'N Stormy, you’re in luck: Bars are bound by law not to fuck with it. But there’s a little leeway in the recipe, according to Gosling marketing materials provided by Kelley. “Run a lime slice around [the] glass rim and drop in (optional),” the pamphlet reads. “Prepare to be refreshed (mandatory).” Just like everything else.

Recipe:

1.5 oz Gosling’s Dark Rum

Top with Gosling’s ginger beer

Run lime around rim and drop in (optional)

Photos by Getty Images