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Wednesday
Sep142011

Ginger Beer Taste Test: The Dark & Stormy Winner Is...

I’m a seasonal drinker with few loyalties. Changing temperatures inspire me to rotate my spirits and by the time summer is in full-swing, I’ve traded my martinis and single malts for rum and bourbon-based cocktails. But none have as tight a hold on a season as the Dark ‘n’ Stormy has for summer, with its equal parts spice and nostalgia.

A combination of dark rum, ginger beer and (an optional) wedge of lime served in a high ball, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy packs a gingery bite, conjuring salty ocean breezes, sailing trips and the island nation of Bermuda, all in a single sip. Much of the dark rum we drink hails from small island nations in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans, distilled from molasses (a sugar cane by product) and aged in charred American oak bourbon barrels with its dark rum finale reeking of spice and molasses. Paired with ginger beer, this seductive summer drink is the definition of the season and I cling to them until the autumnal equinox pries them out of my increasingly cold, sticky, rum-soaked hands.

When it comes to selecting the right rum for this cocktail, specificity is paramount. Repeat after me. A Dark ‘n’ Stormy is only a Dark ‘n’ Stormy when served with Gosling’s 80 proof black seal Bermuda rum. So say two trademarks as well as my own decades-long research into the drink.* If you’re a bartender and claim to serve a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, as one of the few cocktails to be protected by law, it must be served with Goslings. Or cease and desist.  

For all that exclusivity, the choice for the Dark 'n' Stormy's ginger beer mate is a wide-open playing field. If you're not familiar with ginger beer, think ginger ale with a spicy kick. According to the Gosling's website, "Ginger Beer was originally produced in the 1700s, brought to North America by the British colonists where it was brewed locally in homes and taverns." 

With the drinks popularity growing, the list of contenders has grown from the hard-to-find but classic Barritts which can be found on-tap in the motherland of Bermuda, to a dozen or so brands vying for its summertime fling with its Gosling's rum mate lining the shelves of Whole Foods and local package stores. I'd even recommend trying your hand at making your own (I've used this recipe, from mixologist Jeffry Morgenthaler) with excellent results.

With so many ginger beers to choose from, what's the best ginger beer for the perfect Dark ‘n’ Stormy dalliance? 

Rather than answer this question myself with my already stiff allegiances to a few stalwart brands, I enlisted the help of some friends who share my obsession with the cocktail as well as my ambition to crown a ginger beer king.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a professional taster nor are my guests. This was by no means a double-blind test, there was no control group, and the last time I employed the scientific method I was in a college lab, determined to change my major so I would never have to enter one again. We wanted an informal setting (my back yard) with real palates sharing our experience based on what we could find on our nearby shelves. And yes, it was a loosely-veiled excuse to throw a party with my favorite summertime cocktail.

The Contenders

Let's meet the contenders: Goslings, Reeds, Regatta, Elis, Maine Root, Goslings Diet, Fever Tree, Powell & Mahoney, The Ginger People, Saranac with honorable mentions to Barritt’s and D&G which we couldn’t source at the time of the tasting but are beloved. Weeks after the taste test, I found Barritt's back on the shelves and D&G as well.

Goslings

Reeds

Regatta

Eli's

Goslings Diet

Fever Tree

Powell & Mahoney

The Ginger People

Saranac

The Ratings

When coming up with a way to test and capture responses from our tasting, we came up with a series of profiles we thought rang true to the spicy, gingery, bubbly soda that is ginger beer, including: Flavor, Spice, Finish, Fizz and Ginger. Each taster ranked the ginger beer on a scale of 1 to 5 based on these qualities. I then compiled the ten completed sets for the following results.  

The Results


Overall rankings:

1. Maine Root
2. Goslings
3. Fever Tree

4. Powell & Mahoney
5. Regatta
6. Elis
7. Goslings Diet
8. Reeds
9. The Ginger People
10. Saranac


Popular vote:

In addition to ranking each ginger beer based on the profiles, guests were invited to place their top three. Although Maine Root took the top spot in both, surprisingly, the rest didn’t coincide with the above tallied votes.  

1. Maine Root
2. Fever Tree
3. Regatta



Overall Flavor:

1. Fever Tree
2. Gosling’s
3. Eli’s


Spice:

1. Powell & Mahoney
2. Fever Tree
3. Maine Root


Ginger:

1. Powell & Mahoney
2. Maine Root
3. Fever Tree


Finish:

1. Maine Root
2. Powell & Mahoney
3. Fever Tree


Fizz:

1. Gosling’s
2. Gosling’s Diet
3. The Ginger People


Superlatives:

Based on the group’s tasting notes, with interpretive liberties taken by me.

Most likely to lead a rock band: Powell & Mahoney ( “spicy, peppery,” “epic finish”)
Most likely to succeed: Maine Root
Class Book worm: Saranac (“plain,” “tastes like ginger ale,” “boring”)
Class burn-out: The Ginger people (“cloudy,” “bland”)
Most likely to become a doctor: Reed’s  (“tastes like medicine”)
Most likely to go into politics: Gosling’s Diet  (“sickening,” “fake sweet”)


The Conclusion:

When tasting, I often come to the same conclusion. To each their own. A tasting like this will elucidate good qualities and bad qualities, weeding out some real stinkers. For example, I will never purchase a Diet Ginger Beer for the way it wrecks an already sweet cocktail. And unless it's the last ginger beer on the shelf on the verge of a hurricane, you will not find me near Reed's which I find way too medicinal. If you're a fan of this cocktail, I encourage you to try a few brands yourself and find which one strikes the ideal balance. For my palate and money, I'll most certainly be reaching for Maine Root or Gosling's as the summer winds down and I enjoy the last vestiges of this season's most perfect cocktail.


* By research, I really mean ample tasting. And by tasting, I really mean drinking. Many on land, several at sea and the best, by boat.

References:

http://www.goslingsrum.com/discover_howrum.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/fashion/05shaken.html

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Reader Comments (11)

I'm touched that my tasting note made it in the blog! And I was thrilled to be a part of this adventure. Clearly there need to be more of these Highly Scientific Events.

p.s. Maine Root or bust.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

D&G has always been my go-to for my favorite shandy, Moscow Mule. It gives just the right kick, unlike some of the brit ginger beers. I'm surprised you couldn't find it, I've bought it off the shelves of ShopRite, especially those in Jamaican neighboorhoods. I know that Stratford SR carries for sure. The great thing about a ginger beer is that the flavoring is natural (no one has ever synthicized ginger flavor), there are purported medicinal benefits, maby even a touch halucinatory, and it's like ginger ale on turbo charge, unless it's home made ginger ale.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLou

I am not familiar with Maine Root, where can I buy it?

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Yes, please post a Connecticut sourcing guide for these brands. I did find Maine root at tjmaxx once, should have snagged it all!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I'm surprised Reed's scored so low on the list of Ginger beers. Reed's is the real deal!

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJake rutter

Drinking some Reed's now and I must say that I'm stunned by the popularity of this brew. The medicinal taste is overwhelming and unpleasant.

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChickie

Maine Root is a quality product. D&G is available in abundance at Food Bazaar in Bridgeport:

http://www.myfoodbazaar.com/StoreLocator/Store36.html

May 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterHugh McNally

I recently picked up some Maine Root at Mrs. Green's Natural Market in Fairfield.
The adress is 1916 Post Road Fairfield, CT 06824, (203) 255-4333.
Best mixer for D&S I've had yet.

May 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterStephanie Webster

At The Rum Project we love such comparisons and did a similar one which we called "Dark Rum Smackdown". The reason: "Dark & Stormy" may be confused with Gosling's trademarked "Dark 'N Stormy" which they rightfully own, and which they are forced to defend vigorously so as to prevent the term from entering the public domain. This is perfectly understandable, having invested millions in this drink which may be made ONLY with Gosling's Black Seal.

Unfortunately another site such as yours posted a "Dark & Stormy Challenge" which made and compared the drink using other rums. The issue of trademark was raised there, was rejected, and to the webmasters' great surprise he promptly received a "Cease and Desist" letter from Gosling's NY attorney.

He was angry but had to comply and even published the letter! Here...
http://inuakena.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/cease-and-desist/
and...
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3410260/InuaKena/GOSLINGS-INU-A-KENA-CD-091412.pdf

My friend, I urge you to change the name, as this blog did, to "Dark Rum Challenge" or something else that does not break the law. Personally, I'm sure you did not mean to, but as reviewers we are all obligated to respect the rums and the distillers who have invested so heavily to create and sell the rums we love.

Do the right thing!

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCapn Jimbo's Rum Project

Oops... meant to include the fact that Gosling's trademarked "Dark 'N Stormy" may only be made with Gosling's Black Seal and their Gosling's Ginger Beer (lime optional). No other rum or ginger beer may be used and still be called a "Dark 'N Stormy" (or "Dark & Stormy"), as per Gosling's website.

Not only is the name "Dark 'N Stormy" trademarked multiple times, the trademark for the recipe specifies "Gosling's Black Seal rum and ginger beer. They actually sell a trademarked and copyrighted "kit":

http://28.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kvg4xzKMku1qzo5qro1_400.jpg

Although Gosling has been scrupulous about enforcing the use of their rum in a Dark 'N Stormy, I have yet to see their ginger beer likewise protected, although it too is likewise specified and protected as one of the two components of the protected recipe.

I do believe you are pushing the limits, and frankly you are perhaps being a bit too cute for your own good. Whether you slip one by is possible, but not really admirable. At The Rum Project we stand firm in support of the production of honest and pure rums, and honest labeling of same. We applaud and support especially the smaller distillers of the finest Caribbean rums by Richard Seale, family Gosling and Charles Tobias' Pussers to name a few.

These are smaller, hardworking distillers who have invested their lives in creating and producing the rums that many of us respect, love and enjoy. I do believe that we should fully respect their property and in the case of family Gosling and Tobias, their property, namely Gosling's Dark N Stormy and Tobias' Pusser's Painkiller.

I do hope you will exhibit and extend courtesy and respect enough to respect Family Gosling and amend the name of this experiement - a good one I think - to something that does not borrow on their hard work. Example: "A Comparison of Ginger Beers with Gosling's Rum". That is perfectly legal and does not insult or offend anyone.

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCapn Jimbo's Rum Project

How about no.

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ.G.

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