Remember in a recent review when we discussed how Gosling’s trademarked the name of the “Dark ‘n’ Stormy” cocktail in an attempt to obligate anyone mixing the drink to use Gosling’s proprietary ginger beer — and their (relatively new) proprietary ginger beer alone?
Well, not too long ago Barritt’s Ginger Beer was as close to the official Dark ‘N’ Stormy mixer as you could possibly get. As recently as 9 years ago (according to a 2005 article published in PR Newswire), 99.9% of all Dark ‘N’ Stormies consumed in Bermuda embraced Barritt’s as the liquid companion to Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. What’s more, Barritt’s was so thoroughly endorsed by Gosling’s that Gosling’s for a time marketed and distributed the two products together. They were made available in certain parts of the U.S. in a combo-pack that retailed for roughly $18.
So it seems at some point that the Gosling’s and Barritt’s companies got along famously. Well, that definitely is not the case anymore. From what I’m seeing from my admittedly less-than-ringside seats in Los Angeles, USA, an entrenched rivalry between Gosling’s and Barritt’s has dug itself in. In 2012, Barritt’s Bermuda operation ran out of ginger beer for the first time in its company history. And this shortfall, unfortunately, aligned with the Easter holiday that year. Islanders were left without their Barritt’s. But Gosling’s local distributor was quick to point out that Gosling’s “had Bermuda’s back” during the horrid “ginger beer drought.”
BARRITT’S: THE BRAND
Barritt’s is another product that highlights its “heritage” status in the marketplace, consistently pointing out that it has been continuously produced and bottled since 1874. And I’m not quibbling with the legitimacy of that as a promotional strategy: it’s one that works for me — both for reasons I can soundly defend on the one hand but also for reasons that I will confess to being superficial on the other. Additionally, Bermudans definitely seem to put a lot of store in Barritt’s as a hometown drink that has been enjoyed for generations.
In 1993, Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton, celebrated its bicentennial. As part of the happy proceedings, a time capsule was placed side the walls of the city hall building. And within this time capsule was a can of Barritt’s Ginger beer.
The Barritt’s dynasty began with an immigrant from England, William John Barritt. Barritt made the journey to look for better employment prospects in the colonies. He went on to become the head jailer in Hamilton — a humid subtropical hoosegow described in an 1879 book as “old, ill-constructed, ill-arranged, and in every way ill-adapted to its uses.”
It’s unlikely we can fault old Barritt for that. And what’s more, after being passed over for a raise, the eventual founder of the island’s most precious ginger beer brand quit and opened a dry goods store. Among the store’s amenities was a small mineral water carbonating and bottling operation. And in due time the creation of beverages eclipsed the family dry goods business. The company passed into the hands of Barritt’s son. Today, it remains — like so many other ginger beer producers — a family company, with management in its fifth generation. Key to their continued success is that Barritt’s is the sole licenser of Coca-Cola products for the entirety of its legal status as an “overseas territory” of the U.K.
As we peek under the covers of the MBA-speak of corporate positioning and brand identity, however, we discover that Barritt’s is actually made these days in Florida. A concentrate imported from a Buckinghamshire, England, company serves as Barritt’s principal flavoring, and the ginger used in this is sourced from both Jamaica and Africa. (The 2012 Bermuda Ginger Beer drought was effectively caused by a kinks in the supply chain of this concentrate).
BARRITT’S: THE EXPERIENCE
Barritt’s has an eye-catching, whitish hue and a medium, highly effervescent body. The carbonation was aggressive — just a tick more would have been too much. Barritt’s coloring led me to expect a sweetness from the drink. But it didn’t play out quite that way. Barritt’s was dryer than I anticipated, and quite a bit more complex at that. But while I appreciated the complexity, I didn’t find it completely appealing. (It’s possible, however, that that grassiness would make a nice complement with rum; but I’m not reviewing ginger beers as cocktail mixers, at least not yet).
Barritt’s had a nice, strong, citrus-y zest to the flavor, but also a grassiness that struck me as harsh.
What I liked best about Barritt’s was the level of ginger heat. This didn’t come forward in the initial sips, but increased towards the bottom of the bottle (which I had probably allowed to settle too long). The aforementioned spice was much more lively and intense than Barritt’s rival, Gosling’s. But when it comes right down to it, most often I would pick the newcomer over the old standby.
Barritt’s is definitely worth the ginger beer lover’s time and attention. If you find it available in a store near you, I strongly urge you to sample it.