Cin Cin to the Singapore Sling
[UPDATE Raffles Singapore is marking the temporary closure of the Long Bar for refurb by inviting three award winning mixologists from Singapore cocktail bars to create their version of the Singapore Sling. From Feb 10th – 12th 2017.]
In the same year that Singapore is commemorating its 50th anniversary of independence, the city-state’s national drink is also toasting a significant birthday. 2015 marks 100 years of the Singapore Sling, the cocktail created by a Chinese bartender. Or it does according to one theory.
Singapore institution Raffles Hotel is celebrating the centenary of the pink concoction, claiming it was created at the hotel in 1915 by barman Ngiam Tong Boon, originally from Hainan. Peter Heering the maker of Heering Cherry Liqueur – a vital ingredient of the Singapore Sling – is also commemorating the cocktail’s 100th this year.
The story has been repeated in articles and books around the world and become cocktail folklore but not everyone agrees.
“The precise date of creation of the world’s most famous cocktail is shrouded in mystery. Some say the Singapore Sling, sometimes called the gin sling, was first mixed one hot afternoon in 1915,” writes Gretchen Liu enchantingly in the coffee table tome Raffles Hotel. Liu continues: “Others are equally certain that it was available to thirsty guests at least a decade earlier.”
The hotel’s resident historian Leslie Danker has dispelled many myths about Raffles history including the tiger under the billiard table (the feline was instead under the Billiard Room which was built on stilts). But Danker is sure that the origin of the Singapore Sling can indeed be traced to Raffles’ bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. “The previous management staff working at the hotel prior to the restoration in 1991 carried out extensive research on the origins of the Singapore Sling,” says Danker. “They went through all the hotel records they could locate and found no mentions of the Singapore Sling prior to the year 1915. It was therefore estimated that the iconic cocktail was created in 1915.”
Danker also gives an amusing reason behind the Singapore Sling’s creation: “At the time, ladies were not meant to be seen drinking in public. As the bartender created a recipe that was pink, no one knew that the ladies were drinking gin.”
However Lucas Swallows, mixologist for the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, was inspired to make the Singapore Sling 1913 based on an article he’d read by cocktail historian David Wondrich.
“Wondrich found a story from the Singapore Weekly Sun in 1913 which talks about a group of gentleman at the Cricket Club ordering red slings. At the time a sling was a derogatory term for something you drank when you had a hangover. It was usually gin with a sugary mixture to sweeten it and bitters to take the edge off,” says Swallows.
“The bartender refused so the gentleman ordered one shot of gin, one shot of cherry brandy, one shot of DOM Benedictine, a bit of soda water and some limes and they mixed it themselves.”
Wondrich also found earlier references to gin slings in Singapore in 1897 plus a comment about “pink slings for pale people” in 1903.
When Swallows moved to Singapore in 2012 as bar manager of Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza he recreated the cocktail he’d read about. “Our recipe follows the equal measure parts to bring the drink into balance. It’s a very nice herbal flavour but you can also taste the gin and the DOM. It’s fruity but it finishes dry.”
The original recipe for the Boon’s Singapore Sling is long lost but Raffles head bartender, Aron Manzanillo, gives the current recipe: gin (30ml), Cherry Brandy (15ml), Cointreau (7.5ml), DOM Benedictine (7.5ml), Angostura Bitters (Dash), Grenadine (10ml), pineapple juice (120ml) and lime juice (15ml). So perhaps Boon added pineapple juice and coined the phrase Singapore Sling but it’s impossible to say definitively.
Until the end of the year Raffles is offering a Singapore Sling Masterclass where you can learn to make the famous drink in the Long Bar in a group workshop. There’s also a Singapore Sling 100th Anniversary package where an overnight stay includes a private workshop in the Long Bar.
Singapore’s golden jubilee on August 9th has prompted a flurry of new sling creations from bars across the city-state. Including, ironically, the Singapore Cricket Club which is offering the SCC SG50 of gin, triple sec, Grenadine syrup and fresh lime juice until the end of the month.
One of the tastiest is the sweet and sour Straits of Sling at Potato Head Folk, available until August 31st. A key ingredient is a home brewed, pandan syrup, which also gives the drink a brownish rather than red tinge. The cocktail does however feature cherry liquor.
Says Potato Head Folk bar manager Mohammed Irwan: “There are a lot of new variations on the Singapore Sling but a lot of them don’t include cherry liqueur – and that’s what makes it a sling.”