The Ugly American: Dark and Stormy in Bermuda

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Hear me out. I’m far from a booze snob. In college I drank shots that could have consisted solely of antifreeze and roofies for all I knew. Thank God there were no camera phones back then, because I’m unsure I’d want to know the real reasons behind all the little mystery bruises I’d wake up with on those mornings after a bender. But it had to stop, the drinking, right? You don’t want to be that person, the alcoholic cauliflower-faced walrus, wondering why your college buddies won’t let you crash on their couch anymore.

For me it happened when I became a parent and it occurred to me I’d have to kind of live in order to take care of my child. The regular excess of alcohol works against that goal, trust me. I took it a little too much to heart, and stopped drinking for six entire years … so afraid I was I’d set my baby on fire by accident somehow or something. When she was old enough to drop and roll on her own, it was then— and only then—that I finally braved another cocktail, and I had to leave the country to do it.

Bermuda, to be exact.

A Dark and Stormy is the national cocktail of Bermuda. Its two ingredients: black rum and ginger beer. With a lemon slice. But the lemon is not an ingredient, it’s a garnish. There’s a difference. I’ll get to that later.

Okay, it was a perfect storm of a situation. My girl was safely ensconced with relatives across the Atlantic, complete with a placard detailing CPR and fire escape instructions. I had decided weeks in advance I was going to brave a reentry into the world of adult beverages—this after a reverse intervention staged by my best friends, who said, “Hollis, if you don’t drink, people will think you’re an alcoholic.” And my companion on the trip, another travel writer, had filled my ear on the flight over with accolades of the Bermuda national drink. “You gotta have one, it’s your job!”

To me, a Dark and Stormy sounded like a British thing. In college I’d spent a year at Oxford pretty much running my tongue over everything the British Isles had to offer. I wasn’t a fan, especially of Guinness, which tasted like the week-old seepage from a bag of body parts. The first time someone bought me a glass of that, I gave it away to a beggar who had left a card on our table explaining how she was a deaf-mute who made her living leaving cards on people’s tables.

“Please,” the card said, “I am a simple person, with simple needs.” She unleashed her most pleading look, hoping for generosity.

So back to the Dark and Stormy. There are two ingredients in this drink: black rum and ginger beer. That’s it. The first time I had it was at the ritzy Bermuda Fairmont hotel in Southhampton. Upon my first sip, I experienced enlightenment like Moses did on the mount before the burning bush. It was so delicious, so effervescent, so perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the ginger beer and the bitterness of the rum. From now on I would worship one cocktail and one alone—the God of all cocktails—the Dark and Stormy.

Back in the States I was ecstatic to encounter several restaurants that claimed to serve the Dark and Stormy. I ordered it every time, and every time it was an abomination. Once the bartender added lime juice—horrid. Once the restaurant prided itself on its homemade ginger beer, which contained an apothecary level of fresh ginger. I could feel any undiagnosed cancer getting cured as I drank it. But it wasn’t an authentic Dark and Stormy. Another time they used ginger ale, not ginger beer. And often they used dark rum, as opposed to black rum. There is a difference, people.

Again, I’m not a booze snob. I don’t care about the latest mixology trend. Spank my mint. Don’t spank it. I don’t care. It’s just the one drink I love, and it’s so seldom I get to indulge. It’s two ingredients. Two. That’s it. “Don’t improvise,” I’ll beg the bartender. But they always do. Maybe I should make cards. “Please,” the cards will say, “I’m a simple person with simple needs.” The recipe will be on the card. Two ingredients. Two. I’ll unleash my most pleading look … and hope for generosity.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.