Can a two-ingredient drink be rescued? Typically, straightforward drinks like the vodka-soda or whiskey-ginger escape bartender scrutiny. In such a pared-down composition, the thinking goes, there’s little room for innovation. But sometimes, just a few small tweaks can prove the formula worthy of serious consideration.
At Attaboy, the speakeasy-style New York bar housed in the former Milk & Honey space (and run by the same team), the signature Dark ’n’ Stormy is a prime example.
Typically a two-ingredient recipe consisting of rum and ginger beer, in Attaboy’s version, sweetened, fresh-pressed ginger juice—also used in the bar’s famed Penicillin—is the star ingredient. While it’s not fermented, and therefore not a true ginger beer, it lends the drink its signature spicy intensity.
Sam Ross, co-owner of Attaboy and creator of the Penicillin, estimates that the house Dark ’n’ Stormy was created sometime before 2004. “The Sasha [Petraske], Toby Maloney, Joseph Schwartz era of Milk & Honey,” he says. The bar had always focused on meticulous versions of classic cocktails. Ginger-spiked highballs like Bucks and Mules were part of the roster, with the Presbyterian (whiskey, ginger, club soda) a particularly popular call, so it was only natural to refine the ginger quotient called for in so many drinks.
“It was just us not really finding a good version of ginger beer on the market,” Ross explains. “I assume they would have thought, ‘We can do better than this, let’s make our own version.’”
The bar team runs fresh ginger (skin on) through a Breville juicer, then stirs in a hefty measure of granulated sugar. “It’s not simple syrup; we don’t want to dilute the ginger juice [with water], we still want that intensity,” Ross says. (While the ginger stays “nice and spicy” for two days, after that it fades, giving the unwanted perception of “sweet without the spice,” he warns.)
The ginger is balanced by two ounces of dark rum, specifically Gosling’s Black Seal, the default rum selection for the recipe ever since the brand trademarked the drink in 1991. But it also has the right flavor profile, says Ross.
“The big truffly, caramelly, molasses flavor really rounds out the ginger juice for us,” he explains. “Anything lighter, and you really wouldn’t get the flavor coming out over the intensity of our ginger.”
A half-ounce of lime and effervescent club soda finalize the formula. While some may be tempted to add more citrus, Ross discourages the impulse. “It’s not meant to be a sour-sweet drink like a Daiquiri is,” he says. “I’ve found too much lime juice in this does ruin it. It’s not balanced and the components don’t sing the way they should.”
The drink is presented in a chilled Collins glass over an ice spear; instead of a lime wedge, the finishing touch is a piece of candied ginger, the same garnish that adorns the Penicillin.
“All those things have to come into play,” Ross notes. “The freshness of the ginger and lime, the Gosling’s, the nice cold glass and the metal straw—it’s definitely about the sum of its parts right there.”
Plus, notes Ross, with all of the components “ready to roll,” it’s easy to make. For this reason, it’s the drink served at a secret spot at the back of the bar, a small drink rail where guests are sometimes asked to wait when the space is at absolute capacity. “If you don’t mind waiting there, the only thing we do for you up there is make Dark ’n’ Stormys, just because of how quick and easy they are,” says Ross. As a result, it’s been christened the Dark ’n’ Stormy station, or D station for short.
Most telling, the Dark ’n’ Stormy has become the go-to staff drink across the New York–based Milk & Honey family of bars, from Little Branch to Attaboy to Dutch Kills. According to Ross, the recipe hasn’t changed in more than 15 years. Then again, why would it? “It’s spicy, it’s frothy, it’s cold and delicious.”