Buck, Mule, or Dark 'N' Stormy?

In my little informal poll of what's popular to drink, the Dark 'N' Stormy and the Moscow Mule, combined, came out on top. If you think about it, the ginger beer connection between the Dark 'n' Stormy and the Moscow Mule is obvious. So, I'm looking at both of these drinks together in the larger "ginger beer drinks" context. When we take a little peek back into cocktail history, you'll find a whole class of drinks based on ginger ale/beer, called "Bucks" or sometimes "Mules." These are a straight-forward group of drinks that are a base spirit, some citrus juice, and ginger beer. But before we get hung up on spirits, and special names for drinks, we should start this story with ginger beer/ale. You can't have a buck without this special little mixture.

Ginger Beer

Surely ginger concoctions have been around since ginger was discovered by humans. If Wikipedia is to be believed—and who doesn't believe Wikipedia?—humans began "brewing" ginger in the mid-18th century. In the 1900s ginger ale took off, and the stronger, spicier, alcoholic ginger beer bode its time (yep, that's totally past tense for biding one's time). Today the distinction between a ginger ale and beer seems to be that ale is a sweet soda, while beer retains the ginger flavor and spicy kick, in a non-alcoholc form. There are, of course, also alcoholic ginger beers, like Crabbies, but as a rule I think it's fair to say that most people are referring to the non-alcoholic versions.

Ginger Beer

At the end of the day, these drinks are largely soda, so your experience is dependent on said soda. Here in Denmark, we can get a few varieties of ginger beer, in addition to the classic ginger ale. They are all pretty expensive here, which I feel makes this all feel so much fancier than in the US. To give this a proper go, I picked up what non-alcoholic ginger beers I could find here pretty easily here in Copenhagen:

  • Fever Tree Ginger Beer (British)
  • Naturfrisk Ginger Beer (and their Ale) (Danish)
  • Grace Ginger Beer (Jamaican)

Before I made any drinks, my wife and I went ahead and tasted the ginger beers, and ale, side-by-side to see which we preferred. The beers are all nice and gingery. I'd say that the Naturfrisk beer is a little less intense on the ginger and more soda-y, but I dare say I wouldn't taste the difference in a mixed drink. The Fever Tree and Grace are both strong and spicy ginger. I like them both and don't have a real preference. I honestly don't like ginger ale very much compared to ginger beer, but I will say that the Naturfrisk ale was quite good, though it doesn't run with the spiciness of the beers. In terms of cost in these here parts, these are all expensive (47–50 DKK per liter, or $2.75–$3 for 12 ounces), and the price difference between them in minor. I'll probably stick with Fever Tree just because it is easy for me to pick up (at Irma) and it has a screw top so you can close the bottle back up.

The Buck Family

Humans are pretty good at drinking liquor with other things. We're an exploratory species, you might say. Back in the wayback days, gin was probably the most popular spirit used with ginger beer/ale, as it was the most popular spirit generally back then, but rum and vodka have come to the forefront through popularity of their specific buck drinks in more modern times. At the end of the day though, if you're putting some liquor, and lime or lemon juice, in your ginger ale/beer, you're drinking a mixture that easily goes back centuries—no fancy name needed.

Technically a Dark 'N' Stormy isn't a buck if you don't add the lime juice to it, so the official drink can be a straight-up highball, instead of a true Buck. I dare say that ginger beer and rum were getting mixed pretty early on. James Gosling ended up setting up shop in Bermuda in 1806, and producing his first dark rum in 1860. Of course, rum existed long before then (since the 1700s), but Gosling is the darling of this particular drink. The Dark 'n' Stormy name probably didn't show up until long after Gosling's Black Seal rum hit the streets. Some stories say it got its name during World War II, or some such other war time, by a sailor, and it wasn't legally protected as a trademarked name until the 1970s. Yeah, it's weird, a trademarked cocktail. Technically you can't put a Dark 'N' Stormy on your menu unless you make it with Gosling's Black Seal rum. Anyway, rum, lime, and ginger beer will give you a rum buck, regardless of trademarks. Most rum bucks were also named after the origin of the rum, so you can end up with something like a Jamaica Buck, or a Bermuda Buck, in the case of Gosling's.

The Moscow Mule came along quite a bit later. It was invented in the 1940s and is considered one of the main drinks that drove vodka's popularity in American drinking culture. No one's sure why the name switched to Mule from Buck, although I'd guess that it probably sounded better with the alliteration. Buck, mule. Deer, ass. Same difference, right? They both have four legs with hoof-like thingies on the end (just don't get into cloven hooves vs. one-hoovers, also known as equids). Who knows. It's in that fuzzy-history-land that I can conveniently ignore, while throwing around words like equid to make myself look smart. This is a drink that hit early popularity, and then mostly disappeared until it's recent resurgance with the hipster cocktail culture of the last few years. I bump into this drink everywhere today, and it's easy to see why. Bucks are a great, refreshing drink that replaces a lot of the 80s juice highballs, like the Screwdriver, while at the same time being "old-school." Also, Moscow Mules are served in a special mug. Let's be real. We all like special cups or rituals around our drinks.

Recipes

OK, so background aside, what you really want to do is drink these. With a fine ginger beer in hand, these are easy drinks to make. You build them in a collins, highball, or tall, glass and it's as simple as squeezing some citrusy thing, measuring in the spirit, and pouring in some ginger beer. I prefer to make the nicer-looking Dark 'N' Stormy by layering the Gosling's on top of the ginger beer, but at the end of the day, you just need all the ingredients in the glass. Since I had a whole bunch of ginger beer opened, I also went ahead and made myself a Brandy Buck with some lemon. It was delicious. The proportions here are a starting place from the standard recipes I've found, but it's easy to adjust them to your own personal tastes. I note six ounces of ginger beer in these recipes, while I think recipes will vary from four to six. Again, go with taste and work with it. For the citrus I've indicated portions of a fruit instead of measurements. If you want you can measure out half an ounce of juice, which is about where it should be. That said, squeezing the cirtus and having the rind in there adds to the aroma and flavor, and since these are pretty flexible drinks already, I prefer to be less precise with the juice in these than I normally am with my cocktails. Besides, it's fun and easy to just grab a lime, chop it in half and squeeze the dickens out of it.

Dark 'N' Stormy
I happen to keep Gosling's Black Seal in my bar as my well dark rum, but you can use any dark rum you like, like Meyers's (as long as you don't advertise it and get caught by Gosling's ;-)). I'm a big fan of Plantation rums, and they are reasonably priced here in Denmark since they get imported from France, instead of across the pond. (Pretty much any liquor from the Americas gives me sticker shock compared to what I would pay in the US. I buy cheap liters of duty-free Black Seal when I'm in the US.) The Plantation Original Dark rum is a great, affordable rum that I buy here in Denmark if I haven't a sufficient stock of Gosling's.

Dark 'N' Stormy

1/2 a lime
about 6 oz. ginger beer
1.5 ounces dark rum

The way I make these is to grab a glass, squeeze the juice from half a lime in it, and drop the spent lime shell in. Fill the glass with ice, and pour in the ginger beer so you have some space at the top for the rum. Gently pour the rum on top of the ginger beer, so it floats, making a nice, wicked storm cloud over your drink. This isn't as hard as most normal cocktail floats because there is no alcohol in the ginger beer, which means it's easy to keep 'em separated. (And, yes, I hope you just got that Offspring song stuck in your head.) It looks cool, but you should mix it before you drink it so you evenly distributed the rum hit.

Moscow Mule
This is more like drinking ginger beer with a kick, since the vodka isn't going to do any flavoring on its own here. I don't have a fancy Mule mug, but if you want to feel extra hipster, find a nice copper mug for this. Otherwise, it's just a highball drink.

1/2 lime
2 oz. vodka
about 6 oz. ginger beer

No fancy floating for this one since you wouldn't see the vodka anyway. Just squeeze the lime into a glass, drop the shell in, fill it with ice, and add the vodka and ginger beer.

Brandy Buck
In the cocktail world, as a general rule, there are lime liquors and lemon liquors. Brandy is a lemon liquor (you can see its use in the Sidecar). Lemons are bigger than limes so I didn't go with a full half a lemon for this. More like a third.

1/3 lemon
2 oz. brandy
about 6 oz. ginger beer

Same as above for the Moscow Mule. Pretty much just dump it all in a glass with ice and enjoy.