The rum-based Dark ‘n Stormy is the world’s most litigious cocktail
Will this cocktail get you sued?
Words— Kate Dingwall
It may seem like there’s nothing overly complicated about a Dark ‘n Stormy. All the cocktail calls for is a healthy two-finger pour of dark rum, a splash of ginger beer, and a lime wedge for good measure. It’s a low-effort, two-ingredient cocktail made for beach-side sipping.
While this may seem like the definition of effortless, it’s because the Dark ‘n Stormy is one of the most fiercely protected cocktails in history. The Goslings brand forbids the use of any rum but Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, named for the seal of black wax over the top, in the drink. If your Dark ‘n Stormy doesn’t call on the Gosling’s brand as the rum of choice, you could find yourself with a cease and desist on your hands.
Realistically the cocktail police won’t start a manhunt if you sub out Bacardi for Goslings in your post-work patio drink. But if you’re a bar or restaurant, or if you’re pouring them en mass, expect to hear from their lawyers: this is not a PR stunt.
The cocktail was born in World War I during, well, a dark and stormy night in colonial Bermuda. British sailors docked off the island has become a big fan of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, made locally by the Gosling family. A sailor had discovered that pouring the rum over a refreshing glass of ginger beer made a drink that was just what sailors needed to weather storms and let loose in port. One sailor even dubbed the drink’s signature dark, cloudy colours, "the colour of a cloud that only a fool or a dead man would sail under."
The cocktail was a no brainer: Gosling’s rum has flowed freely on the island since the brand was born in 1806, and The Royal Navy owned a ginger beer plant nearby: ginger was a well-known cure for seasickness.
The drink as you know it is protected by five fierce trademarks, in an effort by the Gosling family, to safeguard the sanctity of the drink. This litigiousness may sound like an exercise of corporate greed, but it’s more to preserve the quality of the drink, not to bleed bars dry or strong-arm drinkers into using Gosling’s.
Owner Malcom Gosling Jr argues a cheaper, sweeter, or lighter rum just doesn’t make the same caliber cocktail, tainting drinker’s experiences and ruining the reputation of the drink.
The Goslings brand is not the only brand to take a stand against imposters. Pusser’s rum has a monopoly on the Painkiller: the creamy, Tiki-style drink needs to be a blend of pineapple juice, cream of coconut, orange juice, nutmeg and Pusser’s Rum to be considered the real thing. A Sazerac needs Sazerac branded Rye, and a Hand Grenade, a New Orleans favourite, can only be served by a member of the 721 Bourbon bar group. All, have made headlines challenging those who take the brand’s name in vain.
The brands aren’t shy about facing off against whoever opposes them. Gosling’s drew swords against Zaya Rum, who tried to take ownership over the recipe, and Pusser’s Rum required a similarly dubbed bar to rename itself. Gosling’s even chased after a cocktail blogger who gave readers the alternative to sub in a cheaper rum.
Now, Gosling’s recommends the use of their signature ginger beer, to be poured over precisely one and a half ounces of Black Seal and served over ice in a highball glass. Add lime, by rimming the glass with lime then dropping it into the glass - don’t you dare add lime juice.
The drink as a whole is still relatively simple - no mixology experience needed here, and it’s delicious, no doubt, and legally so: Goslings just want drinkers to have the best damn Dark ‘n Stormy possible.