The Singapore Sling

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This “cocktail” is a drink that has a lot of tropical flavors going on, and is a refreshing cooler.  Composed of many flavors, with the dominating being the herbal, spiced and pineapple, the drink has a few other fruit notes to it, as well as a pleasantly sweet, but not overly decadent, taste.


Probably the most famous version of the Sling variety of “cocktails,” the Singapore sling was created in 1915 at the Bar of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore by Ngiam Tong Boon (Hess).  There are several different variations, but most importantly, the proper sling utilizes gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, and Cointreau.  The version that Robert Hess uses features grenadine as well (Ibid).  Many times, people will end up leaving out the Heering, or the Bénédictine, and will thereby construct something which just doesn’t have that grand old flavor that is found in the “original.”  Yet, there is always contention in the drinks, and in the Savoy, the drink is probably the closest to the traditional Sling cocktail: lemon, dry gin, cherry brandy, shaken and topped with soda water (Craddock 190).

The Sling as a “cocktail” is actually a predecessor to the cocktail.  As I have mentioned before, the cocktail is a drink that features spirit, water, sugar and bitters.  The drink was one that appears to be principally American, and is rather similar to a Toddy: the only difference given by Jerry Thomas was that the Sling had nutmeg whilst the Toddy lacked it, and the gin varietal was an iconic American drink as early as 1800 (Wondrich 150).  While the sling found itself being served warm, and cold, the version that took itself to being considered a classic cocktail was the chilled variety.  The recipe given by Jerry Thomas in 1862 was a teaspoon of powdered sugar, half a glass of water, half a glass of spirits, and a lump of ice; the spirit would preferably be a Holland gin, or whiskey, something with more sweetness and flavor than a dry London gin (Ibid 151).  Dust the top of the drink with some grated nutmeg, and you have yourself a sling.  Therefore, minus the nutmeg, we can consider the cocktail to be a bittered sling, as it was defined in an article found in Balance and Columbian Repository (DeGroff 162).

Compared to the original variety of Sling, the Singapore Sling looks very much like a monstrosity, featuring juices, bitters, and other sweeteners outside of sugar.  The use of bitters is interesting, since it bridges the gap of what would be considered a Sling and a cocktail.  The Singapore Sling is, according to Wondrich, derived from the Punch varietal of Sling, which became prominent in the Cook’s Guide, and Housekeeper’s and Butler’s Assistant (1862) by Charles Elme Francatelli (Wondrich 152).  In this explanation, one can understand where the fruit juices and liqueurs are coming from; the utilization of bitters is thanks to early twentieth century efforts to complicate the flavor of the nutmeg with Angostura bitters instead, providing more depth of flavor to compliment the liqueurs being utilized (DeGroff 162).    Just as Wondrich points out that this is a “Punch,” Haigh suggests that the drink is an individual “tropical-styled punch, and it is really the prototype of the future Tiki genre” (Haigh 264). 

Along that line of thought, that the drink is more of a tropical punch, Haigh feels that the Straits Sling is the ancestor of the Singapore Sling, and that the change may have come about from misreading one of the ingredients, id est kirschwasser (Ibid 264-265).  It seems that in the earliest recipe for the Straits Sling, which is located in Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them (1922), he utilizes the term dry cherry brandy (Ibid 266).  Cherry brandy, in this sense would be kirsch or kirschwasser, meaning cherry water, which is an eau de vie (“water of life”) created using cherries, similar to something such as Calvados (the distillate of apples) or Brandy (the distillate of grapes).  In each of these cases, we return to the use of the word eau de vie, which can be seen in the origins of other spirits such as whisky, also known as uisge beatha, or “water of life” in Celtic.  Most spirits seem to share a background culturally in how the creators conceived of the spirit as some sort of liquid with life giving and medicinal properties.

When constructing the cocktail, Jason Schiffer suggested doing a dry shake of the pineapple juice to get it nice and foamy.  And this works really well, giving the drink a better texture, without much more effort.  Jason also utilizes Old Tom gin, which would be more similar to the styles of gin at the time; I am using Bols Genever, or a Genevieve style gin, which originates from Holland, and works exceedingly well in this drink.  In order to counter the fact the gin is more earthy, I used a tad bit more lime juice; otherwise, the recipe is extremely similar to given by Robert Hess, which seems to be the version that Ngiam Tong Boon himself utilized (Hess).  Try the drink with a little bit of Angustora bitters misted on top, or with a few drops of Angustora, which helps give the drink a really nice aroma; optionally, someone can use freshly grated nutmeg, to return to the historical conception of a sling.  In other case, you probably shouldn’t imbibe with a straw, because that hinders the texture of the foam, and receiving the full aroma of the drink.

This drink is a long drink, seeing as it is served with ice, and so can be enjoyed over time.  I wouldn’t serve this drink with any food, since it is rather tropically and fruity, and seems to be something which would work best as a summer cooler.  If it must be served with food, since the drink is sweet, I would recommend something drier, but with a flavor that can match the cocktail.  For instance, pate de porc gras works really well, not being sweet, but complimenting the flavors of the drink: pineapple and pork products have always gone nicely together (think glazed hams), and so this is a wonderful accompaniment.  Serve the porc with some strong tasting water crackers, preferably something with pepper to contrast against the porc and the drink, and provide a better overall experience with both contrasting and complementing flavors in each bite.

The Singapore Sling:

1 1/2 – 2 ounces of gin (Genevieve style)
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce Bénédictine
1/3 ounce grenadine
1/2 – 3/4 ounce lime juice
2 – 3 ounces pineapple juice
Dash of angostura bitters

Dry shake the pineapple juice in a cocktail tin by itself, so that it gets frothy.  Combine the rest of the ingredients, shake with ice until thoroughly chilled, and strain into a highball glass over cracked iced.  Garnish with a cherry, and an orange peel.

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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Haigh, Ted.  2009.  Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond.  Beverly, Massachusetts: Quarry Books.

Hess, Robert.  “Singapore Sling.”  DrinkBoy.com  http://www.drinkboy.com/Cocktails/Recipe.aspx?itemid=151 (accessed April 20, 2010).

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.