Tall, Dark And Stormy Drinking alcohol is fraught with rules. Not just rules governing when you can drink or how much you can have before you drive, but rules about what constitutes "real" types of alcohol. Bourbon can only be made after the fashion originating out of a certain county in Kentucky. Rye whiskey has to be made from at least 51% rye. Scotch should only be blended with water and more scotch. And that's just the whiskies! Whiskey tends to be the extent of my alcohol research, but it turns out, wine is even worse--filled with rules and guidelines that are regulated partially through legislation that not everyone is party to and partially through tradition that not everyone cares about.
Cocktails are usually a little looser. Sure, you can use rye instead of bourbon, or sekt instead of champagne. By and large, you can scrape by--a different type of liquor will affect the quality, but a cheap-ass scotch and soda doesn't stop being a scotch and soda, even when made with well whisky.
The Dark and Stormy is an exception to this rule. Officially, the Dark N Stormy has to be made with dark rum and ginger beer. The rum is supposed to be Goslings (practically, any dark rum will do. Don't used spiced rum, and don't use light rum). There is no official ginger beer specified. Because over this summer I got addicted to drinking Dark N Stormys, I cast a wide net and found as many different types of ginger beers as I could possibly find in North Brooklyn.
I drank so many Dark and Stormys that I can no longer tolerate the taste of them. I am no longer addicted. I did, before I got tired of them, figure out the best and the worst ginger beers. I can share them with you, even though I can no longer join you in the Promised Land myself.
Fentiman's Ginger Beer makes a powerful difference. The ginger taste is extremely strong in this drink, making it the best ginger beer I've had ever. It's a sharp ginger kick without the burn that you might get from accidentally eating too much pickled ginger with your sushi--you know how some strands stick together without you noticing and suddenly your dish is using your tonsils as a punching bag? Well, Fentiman's just gently carasses and cups your tonsils, enough to let you know that it's there, but not enough to cause you discomfort. The only downside is that it costs three dollars for a smaller bottle. If I were running a speakeasy style bar, this is the ginger beer I would be using.
DG Jamaican Ginger Beer is half the price of Fentiman's, and it doesn't look like much at all, from afar. But their label is my favorite ever, featuring a tomcat in Bermuda shorts, sunglasses, and a bottle of DG Jamaican Ginger Beer with the exact same label on it. Recursive kitty is recursive. Even better, the ginger beer itself is second only to Fentiman's. The ginger taste has a sharpness and crispness to it that is really wonderful, and balances out the sweetness of the rum quite well.
Goslings canned ginger beer is bland and passable, but nothing special. Honestly, it left no impression whatsoever, and I have only the empty cans to prove that I actually had any of it.
The Ginger People Ginger Beer I initially thought was the blandest of the ginger beers. Using "natural ginger juice" (as was sung of in the original version of the Snopp Dogg song, before they decided to make it about alcohol to broaden the appeal) with "natural ginger fibers," the first initial sips had a hint of the sharpness, but more muted than the other ginger beers. The last half of the bottle, though, was as murky as OJ with pulp. Apparently, you're supposed to shake the bottle (lightly, it's carbonated) before opening it to get those "natural ginger fibers" mixed up for the proper taste. When you do it properly, the Ginger People Ginger Beer is perfectly palatable, about tying with the Regatta in quality. However, "Ginger People Ginger Beer" makes me feel like I'm some soylent green drinking person who exclusively targets redheads.
Regatta Ginger Beer from Bermuda has good ginger taste, with a sweet foretaste and a slightly bitter aftertaste. It doesn't have nearly the bite that Fentiman's does, but, for most people, that's probably a plus. It's blander, but still identifiably Ginger Beer; the label does seem a bit prissy, though. I already feel wimpy enough drinking a rum drink (rum having completely lost the badass connotations it had back when the pirates were plying the Barbary Coast, swiving and slaughtering their way), I don't exactly want a bottle that makes me feel like I should be wearing a polo shirt with the collars popped while my team operates my yacht. I don't want to judge a drink by its label, but the label does speak to the more muted civilized tastes of the ginger beer itself. It is the musical equivalent of yacht rock; you'll probably find yourself enjoying it at some point, against your better judgment, but there is far better stuff out there.
Reed's Extra Ginger Brew is pretty terrible. Instead of having bite, it just tastes like they soaked some spoiled ginger overnight, like a ginger stock. It tastes mildly sweet and tainted. If this was the only ginger beer at my local bodega, I would decide to have something other than Dark And Stormys tonight.
Stewart's Ginger Beer. This was not included in my initial testing of ginger beer, because I couldn't find it near my apartment, but subsequently I've had Dark N Stormys at bars made with Stewart's, and it is a clear favorite. I would put it right up there with DG Jamaican, with that same sharpness and crispness that you want in a ginger beer.
The best two ginger beers are the Fentimans and the DG Jamaican. I would go with DG Jamaican in a pinch because it's almost half the price for almost the exact same quality. The Stewart's Ginger Beer is, I think, easy to get in places that aren't my neighborhood in Greenpoint, and works just as fine.
Regatta, Ginger People, and Goslings are inferior ginger beers, but you can still have a decent drink made out of them.
If all you have is Reed's, though, it's time to move onto a Cuba Libre, or switch out to non-rum drinks.