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Drink Forecast: Dark 'n' Stormy 

Prepare for nippier days by kicking up your own rum squall.

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak

The name conjures images of white-capped seas, eerie campfire stories and moody mystery novels. As cocktails go, though, it’s hard to find a beverage as breezy and straightforward as the dark ’n’ stormy. The drink finds its origins in balmy Bermuda (where it’s the official drink). The fizzy highball has earned a following from Boston to San Francisco and, thankfully, it’s making local appearances of late.

Part of the attraction is the cocktail’s simplicity: two ingredients — lime optional — make the Dark ’n’ Stormy an easy crowd-pleaser for the in-house entertainer and bartender alike. But the true appeal is in the complexity of those basic elements. For the traditionalist, Gosling’s Black Seal — Bermuda’s brand — is the only rum for this drink. Ginger beer, not to be confused with milder ale, creates heat and texture. Add a spike of fresh lime, and you’ve got a flavor storm a-brewin’.

The Dark ’n’ Stormy is an ideal antidote to dry, hot weather, but we find it also pairs well with waning days of summer in the Inland Northwest. For official backup, I’ve tracked down some local mixologists for their take on the drink that’s taken the States by storm.

The Red Door 215 S. Main st ., Moscow
When we spoke with Red Door mixologist Diana Wissinger, she was hard at work on a new infusion. But while her latest concoctions are challenging the Dark ’n’ Stormy’s popularity at her bar, the favored cocktail is here to stay. “When I started the cocktail program at the Red Door,” she says, “Andrew [Appleton], the owner, said I could do whatever I wanted. The Dark ’n’ Stormy was the first thing I put on the menu. I like it. I’ve always liked it. And I knew we had a really good recipe. I wanted to put it on display.”

That recipe, Wissinger notes, starts with Gosling’s Dark Rum, but hinges on a secret recipe of ginger beer she and her colleagues perfected over time. And time. Five to eight cups of juiced ginger go into a single 750 ml batch. Citrus, sugar and a combination of spices round out the recipe. The result? A highly concentrated, potent ginger brew. “It’s tedious,” Wissinger admits, “but it’s worth it. Our ginger base is what sets us apart.” Experience the Red Door’s version of the cocktail and you’ll have to agree with her.

Clinkerdagger 621 W. Mallon Ave., Spokane
The Dark ’n’ Stormy has long been popular in East Coast harbor towns, where sailors returning from, say, Bermuda, hightail it from the high seas to the safety of a good saloon. No surprise, then, that Seattle — of maritime fame — would be on board.

About a month ago, in the process of a joint menu change with their Seattle counterparts, the drink maestros at Clinkerdagger took on the Dark ’n’ Stormy. “We’re really trying to stay local when it comes to produce and things, so we recognized a lot of fruity drinks on the menu,” says drink manager Debi Moon. “We wanted something different.” As the name would suggest, the Dark ’n’ Stormy provided the contrast they were looking for. “When we made it, it was one of those ‘aha!’ drinks,” she says. “We had to have it.”

The Dark 'n' Stormy

Start with the recipe below, using a highball glass, and experiment away. Find ginger beer at the Moscow Food Co-Op, Huckleberry's, the Main Market Co-Op or elsewhere.

  • 1.5 oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum
  • Top with Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer
  • Garnish with lime (optional)

Apparently, so do patrons. “It’s definitely popular with customers,” Moon tells us. She attributes this to Clink’s recipe, which combines 1.5 oz. of Mount Gay Eclipse Dark Rum, 1.5 oz. fresh lime sour (made in-house), a dash of bitters and Beaver Tree ginger beer. (“We couldn’t find an original ginger beer in Spokane,” Moon laments, “so we order it from B.C.”)

To channel your inner mariner, sip a Dark ’n’ Stormy in Clinkerdagger’s bar, with its warmly lit, darkly wooded English pub feel.

El Que 141 S. Cannon St., Spokane
In an unusual cocktail-world move, Gosling’s took the lawful initiative to trademark-protect the Dark ’n’ Stormy recipe. But bartenders are bred to experiment, and those at El Que in Browne’s Addition are known for it. When I ordered one from bartender Jessie Shaw, she smiled. “I love that drink.” Then she promptly served me a cocktail that turned the traditional drink on its head: a pineapple Dark ’n’ Stormy.

I was skeptical, worried that it would be too sweet, the tropical fruit too overpowering and that this unasked-for departure would make me long for the comfort of the familiar. But while the pineapple-infused Meyer’s Dark Rum certainly changes the game, it plays nicely with the ginger and lime in this drink. It’s a little rebellious, even fun.

Credit goes to the creators — “We’ve been working on this infusion for a while,” Shaw notes — and to El Que’s choice of ginger beer. The Cock ‘n Bull brand isn’t as potent as others, but it packs a bigger fizz punch, adding texture and depth to the drink and keeping those pineapple notes in check. In the end, this is a pleasant, refreshing reincarnation of the Dark ’n’ Stormy, trademarks be damned. “We’re hoping to get it on the menu soon,” Shaw adds. “It’s just so good.”

Dining Out 2010

Get a chef to confide in you*, and one of two things will happen. If that chef is passionate about her work but works for someone else, she will undoubtedly talk about the frustrations and constraints of working around customers’ whims — or, maybe worse, an owner’s perception of a customer’s whims. She’ll talk about wanting to be free to make her art on her own terms — to open a restaurant that is only hers, and to make the food she loves making, regardless of who comes in the door.

Now get a chef who is also a restaurant owner to confide in you. She might complain about many things — payroll, a ruined panna cotta, an inexplicable kale shortage — but she won’t complain about feeling boxed in. At worst, she’ll feel misunderstood. But feeling misunderstood is a trait of all artists, isn’t it?

The chefs in Dining Out 2010 belong to that latter category. They have taken on tremendous personal and professional risk in the hope of reaping the tremendous reward of both freedom and success at the thing they love most. Their food and their stories inspire us. We hope they inspire you, too.

— Luke Baumgarten, Section Editor

* This may take a drink or two, and you may have to do some confiding yourself.

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