This post started life a few weeks ago as a simple recipe review of the Singapore Sling, much like many of the other posts I’ve written here. However, the more I read about it, the more I realised that a simple one recipe review of a drink with such a complex history just wouldn’t do it justice. Unlike many classic cocktails the Singapore Sling has an abundance of information and history written about it. The problem is much of it is so contradictory working out the actual history of the drink is rather difficult.
It’s fairly well documented and agreed on that the Singapore Sling was created by Ngiam Tong Boon at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, at some point between 1900 and 1915. It may have originally been called the Straits Sling, until the Singapore moniker caught on at some point during the 1920s or 1930s. Alternatively, other sources suggest the Straits Sling may have been the original drink that the Singapore Sling was derived from. As you would expect, the exact recipe for the drink is much disputed, with different recipes calling for different ratios and some including pineapple juice, others not.
The Raffles Hotel publish a recipe card for the Sling they currently serve in pre-mixed form, however the hotel has admitted the original recipe was lost at some point during the middle of the 20th century. The current recipe is almost certainly modified from the original, and was formulated by Ngiam Tong Boon’s nephew during the 1970s. Contemporary sources aren’t a massive amount of help either, with the recipes varying greatly depending on which book you look at. Chances are, we will never know the exact recipe for the original Singapore Sling.
While I can’t offer you the original recipe I can attempt to discover the best recipe, in my opinion anyway. Of the many recipes floating around I have chosen to sample the first published recipe of the Straits Sling from “Cocktails and How to Mix Them” by Robert Vermeire (1922), the equal-parts recipe recorded by Charles Baker in “The Gentleman’s Companion” (1939), and a more modern recipe from Dale DeGroff that introduces pineapple juice.
- 2 shots gin
- ½ shot Bénédictine
- ½ shot dry cherry brandy
- ½ shot lemon juice
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Shake well with ice and strain in to a Sling glass. Top off with soda water.
The Straits Sling is listed by Robert Vermeire as a “well-known Singapore drink”, and hence has been linked in the Singapore Sling. Its ingredients share some similarity with more modern Singapore Sling recipes, although the use of “dry cherry brandy” suggests cherry eau de vie (Kirsch) rather than a cherry brandy like Heering. This confusion of the term “cherry brandy” may well be how the Straits Sling evolved in to the Singapore Sling.
Despite its relatively small measure, the Kirsch dominates the drink with the Bénédictine there in the background but somewhat lost. Although the cherry taste from the kirsch is strong, the other ingredients work well to tone back the strength of the eau de vie ensuring a reasonably balanced drink. People who enjoy modern Singapore Slings would probably baulk at the Straits Sling, but as a classic cocktail standing on its own, it’s a pretty good one.
In the interests of completeness, I also tried this recipe with Heering rather than Kirsch. The resulting cocktail had a subtle cherry sweetness behind what is essentially a gin and soda. Without soda water, and with some playing with the ratios, this might make a tasty gin cocktail, but as it stands the Straits Sling made with Heering just didn’t quite work for me.
Singapore Sling (equal parts recipe)
- 1 shot gin
- 1 shot Bénédictine
- 1 shot cherry brandy
- Shake well with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Top off with soda water and garnish with an lime twist.
This recipe appeared under various names, including the Singapore Sling and the Raffles Hotel Sling, from the 1940s onwards. While it may not be the original recipe, it was certainly popularly used for a number of years. This was the first Sling recipe I tried, albeit with cheap cherry brandy, and it resulted in a rather sweet but still interesting drink.
Using Cherry Heering results in a strong cocktail with a rich cherry taste and sweet Bénédictine undertones. You’ll want to use a reasonable amount of soda water to tame back the sweetness and strength to palatable proportions. Overall while an enjoyable drink it tastes rather unbalanced, with the sweetness and richness of the Bénédictine and Heering dominating too much.
Singapore Sling (Dale DeGroff recipe)
- 3 oz. pineapple juice
- 1½ oz. gin
- ½ oz. Cherry Heering
- ¼ oz. Bénédictine
- ¼ oz. Cointreau
- ¼ oz. lime juice
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Shake well with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Top off with soda water and garnish with a flag.
Dale DeGroff claims this to be the original recipe, having contacted the Raffles hotel a number of years ago. However, given that the hotel has admitted the recipe was lost, and that this recipe differs from the one currently used by the hotel, it would seem this is just another modern interpretation of the recipe. However it sounds far more balanced than the current Raffles recipe, which uses a very large amount of pineapple juice, so I choose to sample this one instead.
As you might expect the pineapple leads the drink, with an interesting cherry undertone and Bénédictine background. The flavours all very subtle, but every ingredient is there to be enjoyed if you take the time to look (or rather, taste). It’s a very drinkable cocktail, and of all the Slings I tried this was the only one my non-cocktailian friends enjoyed. For me the pineapple was just a little too dominant in the original recipe, but I found reducing it to 2½ oz. or even 2 oz. perfected it.
While Dale DeGroff’s recipe almost certainly isn’t the original, it is by far the best tasting one. No one knows who originally thought to add pineapple to the Sling, but its presence makes the drink approachable for modern drinkers, and is almost certainly the reason the Singapore Sling has remained a popular cocktail to this day while the Straits Sling is all but forgotten. That said both other recipes have their merits, and all three are certainly worth experimenting with to find your perfect Singapore Sling.
You can read more about the history of the Singapore Sling, in far more extensive detail than I could ever have hoped to go in to, in Ted Haigh’s article and his excellent book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. They were both a huge help to me in trying to work out the history and to decide which recipes were worth trying.
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