Brace yourself for the Thunderhead.
Consider the Dark and Stormy – that cleverly conceived balance of grainy sugarcane sweetness set against the refreshing sting of lime juice, rounded off by that third kind of heat: the effervescent, slow burn of ginger beer. A brilliant concept, hamstrung by a real lack of – what would you call it – moxie? chutzpah? commitment to a bit? Sadly, all apply.
We’ve all been through the letdown of a recipe that only sounds like magic. Each new ingredient washes over the mind’s tongue as we read, amounting to something like an elixir of epic proportions, the sort of thing that could, in a single sip, drive all boredom and gloom from our minds; we dutifully follow instructions, and wait to be thrilled beyond our wildest hopes, only to be left with a glass of something lackluster and lifeless. We retrace our steps and double-check our measurements, hoping to find we’ve made some mistake; but alas, in the end, it turns out to be nothing more than another case of false advertising.
Sadly, this was my experience with the Dark and Stormy. They had me at rum plus lime plus ginger. Everyone who’s ever fallen for the now ubiquitous Mojito, or the Mai-tai, or even the Cuba Libre, for that matter, knows that rum loves lime. And as a rabid fiend for all flavors Thai, the thought of mixing the lively zing of fresh lime juice with the smoldering burn of ginger made me weak in the knees. I became steadily more enamored as numerous bloggarts waxed rhapsodic over the drink’s nigh-magical properties – and highly specific list of ingredients and proportions. “You’ve got to use a real Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer – preferably Barritt’s. The other stuff just doesn’t cut it.”
Thanks to a series of failed experiments in search of the ideal Moscow Mule, I’ve compiled a long list of disappointing ginger ales and beers – including nearly every one I’ve tried. (For a notable exception, look here.) Sure, the carbonation is refreshing, and the presence of real cane sugar is infinitely more pleasing than the mass-produced pops, all gloopy with high fructose. And there’s the real, if faint, flavor of ginger. But where, I ask you, is the burn? I find myself wondering whether any ginger was actually harmed in the making of these ginger beers. So when a bottle of Barritt’s turned up at the local party store, I was naturally intrigued.
Imagine my disappointment. Undeniably, it had some very nice, sweeter citrus notes, and hints of vanilla and creaminess – an all around pleasing flavor. In fact, “pleasant” was the long and the short of it. But my inner thrill-seeker was left twisting in the wind. No endorphins for you! Add to this the fact that many recipes call for enough rum and lime to power a short drink topped by tall enough pours of ginger beer to fill out a long one, and you end up with an incredibly diluted experience, subdued in every one of its delightful, salutary qualities. I threw away both map and compass, abandoned the counsel of the wise, and got down to fixing my own wagon. What I came up with was an instant hit at my next soirée, and I offer it to you now: the Thunderhead.
I chose to start with blackstrap rum, by Cruzan Estates, because you simply can’t get any inkier than that. Light waves disappear into the stuff. Also, the notes run from caramel to toffee, rimmed with earthy, tarry accents. To this, I added a healthy portion of fresh lime juice, tart and light enough to balance the cocktail’s heavier elements. And the engine? Two teaspoons of fresh ginger juice (feel free to start with just one for the more timid tippler). This essence, together with simple syrup and a splash of stiffly carbonated soda water did for me what no ginger beer could. For pure visual delight, the fresh ginger leaves a bright yellow foam atop the impenetrable concoction, with just enough of a greenish tint to suggest the most forboding of storm clouds – hence, its name.
2 oz Cruzan Estates Blackstrap Rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 tsp fresh ginger juice
Shake till frothy, then pour into a rocks glass. Top with a splash of soda or, if you have one that’s really up to the task, then with ginger beer. Garnish with a generous lime wedge, and consume intrepidly, as a swashbuckler might.
A note on the juicing of ginger: if you don’t own a heavy duty electric juicer, something along the lines of a Breville juice fountain or a Jack Lalanne power juicer, you may find yourself with a rather challenging task. Ginger, like many roots, is quite dense and fibrous, and doesn’t yield its precious essences easily. If you have no choice but to juice the ginger manually, then let me suggest grating it finely enough to produce a pulp (the indispensable microplane works well for this purpose), and then wringing the juice from the pulp through cheesecloth. In addition to the ginger juice you extract, you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you did it the old-fashioned way. Alternately, if you live close to a juice bar, let me recommend outsourcing this tedious task! All readers who dwell in the Ann Arbor area would do well to recall that Seva sells freshly juiced ginger by the ounce — and each ounce is enough to power at least three Thunderheads.