DARK 'N STORMY TIMES AFFECTING COCKTAIL CULTURE

22 Aug 2007

By Ricardo Baca, Denver Post Staff Writer. Cocktail culture, like anything trendy, takes its time moving from the coasts to the inland cities and into the suburbs. Now that a mediocre Mexican cantina in an unsightly stretch of strip-mall in Westminster is hawking mojitos to its suburban clientele, it's fair to say that the minty rum drink is no longer at the forefront of trendy cocktailing in Colorado.

Mojitos are still delicious. si. But there's another island drink that's beginning to make the rounds at the most innovative bars in Denver and Boulder this summer. And like the mojito, this cocktail du jour is hardly a new recipe.

The Dark & Stormy is this year's new model. In a world of classic cocktails, throwback and tired trendy drinks, the Dark & Stormy is its own entity - while it also fits into each of those disparate categories.

Served in a highball glass with a lime wedge, the cocktail looks like a tumultuous island sky, thus the name. The drink, which fuses dark rum with ginger beer, finds its roots in Bermuda, where it is considered the national drink. And its unique, slightly bitter taste suggests a dangerous and romantic past of daring swashbuckling, extended beach stays and salty skin admired for both its appearance and taste.

The Dark & Stormy is indeed a brilliant summer drink, and it could very well emerge as the most relevant drink of summer 2007.

"It's one of my personal favorites," said Matt Snyder, general manager at Senger's, a new bar on East Colfax Avenue that includes the Dark & Stormy on its own drink menu. "It's something different, and not a lot of people know what it is. The ginger beer is unique. Instead of regular ginger ale, it has a potent bite of ginger - it's not your average, everyday drink."

When Sean Kenyon started working as bar manager for Steuben's, he had made maybe 20 Dark & Stormys in his bartending career overall - and even those were jury-rigged with ginger ale, because his wells didn't include ginger beer, a nonalcoholic concoction that carries a more severe bite. But since Steuben's opened with the Dark & Stormy on its menu, the cocktail has gained steam locally.

"It's definitely gained in popularity over the last year," said Kenyon. "During the week, we might sell 15 a day. But on the weekends we'll make 25 or 30 a night."

Storm started in Boulder

One of the first bars in Colorado to pick up on the trend was Rumba, the now-defunct space on Boulder's Pearl Street that has since reopened with a new menu as Centro. When Rumba opened in '99, bar manager Julian Hitchcock added Dark & Stormys to the menu after tasting a couple at Hobson's Choice, an old rum bar in San Francisco's Haight neighborhood. Even though Rumba's entire menu was overhauled, the Dark & Stormy remains a fixture at Centro, which opened earlier this year.

"It's one of those cocktails that has pretty good standing with a lot of the management staff in the company, so it would have been pretty difficult to get it off the menu," said John Bachman, director of operations at the Big Red F Restaurant Group that manages Centro, Lola, Jax and others. "We took an interesting marketing angle on it for years and years at Rumba, where we made it a weather-related drink special. Anytime it was below 32 degrees, we knocked $2 off the price. When it was snowing, we knocked $3 off the price. Doing that helped us build up the business on those year-round... and we'll continue to do that at Centro as we get into the fall and winter."

Kenyon was the general manager at the old B-52 Billiards in LoDo for 5 1/2 years, and in that time he was never asked for a single Dark & Stormy. But now certain Steuben's regulars come in and order the cocktail before even addressing their menus - a trend that has forced Kenyon to get creative with his ginger beer selection, since his mixer of choice, a ginger beer made by Bermudan brand Barritt's, has gone on back order three times in the past year.

"I hear from a lot of people that they had it on vacation," Kenyon said. "Other than that its people bringing their friends in and making them taste it."

It's not for everybody, notes Snyder.

"A lot of people don't like it because it has a unique taste," Snyder said. "That's also the reason there are some people who only drink that when they come in. The Dark & Stormy has been around forever, but like fashion, everything cycles and recycles."

Easier than a mojito

Some of the beauty of the Dark & Stormy is its simplicity. Making mojitos at home - especially for a large group - can be a task in patience and trial and error. But the Dark & Stormy, with its three basic ingredients, is easily pieced together, whether you're making it by the glass or pitcher. Still, a few tips are always helpful.

"The quality of the limes is essential," said Snyder. "I learned being a chef that the ingredients you put into something can make or break the meal, or in this case, the drink. Maybe use Key limes, which are native to Bermuda, where the drink originated."

Kenyon notes that you shouldn't be lazy with the other ingredients, either.

"Some people make these at home with ginger ale, but that's not right." Kenyon said. "With ginger ale, it tastes too thin. Ginger ale doesn't have the bite of ginger beer, and that's what makes the drink."

We'll add, too, that dark rum is essential - and using a Gosling's Black Seal Rum compared with a Bacardi gold makes all the difference in nailing down this drink's true, exotic appeal.



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