Singapore Sling(s)

October 19th, 2007

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.

Straits Sling

Straits Sling

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)

Singapore Sling (equal parts recipe)

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)

Singapore Sling (Dale DeGroff recipe)

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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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Bénédictine, Cherry Heering, Curaçao & Triple Sec, Gin, Kirsch, Lemon, Orange Bitters, Pineapple, Recipes

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20 responses to “Singapore Sling(s)”

  1. erik_flannestad erik_flannestad says:

    I remain fairly unconvinced that the Singapore or Straits Slings were ever concocted with Kirsch.

    I don’t have Vermiere; but, a close reading of his book, and an indication that he always calls for “Dry Cherry Brandy” rather than “Kirsch” or “Kirschwasser” in his recipes would help make that point for me.

    A close reading of “A South American Gentleman’s Companion” and “A Gentleman’s Companion” suggests to me that the original Raffles Sling was quite sweet and that, in fact, Baker meant Cherry Liqueur when he said “Cherry Brandy”. It is my understanding that he had, in fact, enjoyed Gin Slings in Singapore before they were reformulated in the 70s.

    We’ve talked about it over on here:

    Singapore Sling Article,, The Gin sling of the Raffles Hotel.

    My favorite of Baker’s recipes is The Paramaribo Park Club Gin Sling from the Dutch Guiana Capital City of Suriname.

    Actually this sling was something of an improvement over the sweetish Raffles job, to your Pastor’s present-day taste. It was a trifle dryer, had a bit more lime juice than average here in the United States; and, finally the inclusion of the crushed–seeded–lime hulls in the finished drink lent added aroma and flavor as they do in Gin Rickeys.

    2 oz Best Dry Gin
    1 Pony Cherry Brandy
    Juice & Hulls 2 small limes
    1 tsp each Cognac & Benedictine

    Shake with fine ice till quite cold, strain into short highball glass, letting some of the ice go in also. Cap with chilled club soda; garnish with ripe pineapple stick &/or cherry. Personally we float-on the Benedictine-Cognac after finished drink’s poured.

  2. opinionated-alchemist opinionated-alchemist says:

    Hm – I do have my doubts with one or the other recipe…

    You forced me to think about one of my next posts, which supposed to be about the Singapore Sling…

    By the way, very nice cherry! Are you doing this cherries at home? Do you have a recipe?


    Dominik MJ

  3. Jay Jay says:

    Erik, for me Kirsch works better in the Straits Sling recipe, but whether that is what was meant I really don’t know. Your theories sound convincing though. The Paramaribo Park Club Gin Sling (what a mouthful!) sounds tasty, the addition of a little Cognac sounds good.

    Dominik, yes they are homemade maraschino cherries. Absolutely delicious, and so much better than the bright red store-brought ones. I used the recipe Gabriel provided.

  4. Rick Rick says:


    You may have forced my hand. I’ve been pondering a Singapore Sling recipe comparison for some time. Though after compiling 40+ recipes that all sounded good, the post went into the dark bin of “great ideas if consuming cocktails was my job.”

    Trader Vic has quite a few takes on the recipe as well.

    The two schools of singapore slings (with Benedictine and pineapple juice and without) seem like they ought to be two separate potions entirely. We’ll have to see …

  5. Marleigh Marleigh says:


    Great post! I tried one of the myriad “alternative” recipes for this drink and found it dull and boring. I haven’t been inspired to try again, but Doctor Cocktail recommended the version(s) with Benedictine, so I’ll just have to give it a go now that you’ve given us such a wide range to compare to…

  6. Jay Jay says:

    Wow Rick, 40 recipes?! I think I probably came across about 10-15 whilst writing this post, but I just went for the most common and/or interesting ones. It’s amazing one cocktail can have so many varying recipes, though you say some of them vary so much they’re not really the same drink at all.

    Marleigh, the Bénédictine isn’t a major flavour component in most of the recipes, but it’s definitely there doing something. I’d definitely recommend trying a recipe that makes use of it.

  7. Axion Axion says:

    I miss the big days of hotel bars, fancy drinks, and fancy clothes. To me, the Singapore Sling symbolizes everything great about that era.

  8. cocktailnerd » Blog Archive » MxMo: Sling This! - A blog of most things cocktail and alcohol related says:

    [...] Jay’s walkthrough of the “Straits Sling” and other incarnations Drinkboy’s piece on the Singapore Sling and his slight adjustment to the recipe Dr. Cocktail’s exhaustive white paper on the Singapore Sling, its history, and just where we lost our minds Singapore Sling Rating: Dr. Bamboo, sitting next to me, took note and said, “Dude, you gotta get a picture of that…” [↩]I assume until you fill up the glass, or some shit [↩]after your arm gets tired of pouring sweet & sour I presume [↩]despite their coaster’s recipe, it apparently is a pre-mix solution [↩]in his ‘Great bars of the World and What Makes Them Great’ seminar [↩]Plymouth, naturally, would ask that you use Plymouth Gin here [↩]a Straits Sling recipe [↩] Share this post: [...]

  9. Rhys Rhys says:


    During a recent stay at Raffles hotel I ventured into the long bar to try the Singapore Sling (when in Rome and all that…..) As you mention in your excellent review, they do indeed pre mix and the result is a sickly sweet, unremarkable drink.
    Also, the long bar is jam packed with horrible tourists waving camera phones around and the bar staff have around 2.5 seconds to devote to each customer – so if you are staying at Raffles, I recommend staying put in the residents bar.

    As soon as I can put together the requisite ingredients, I will give the Dale DeGroff version a try, it sounds much more to my taste.

  10. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks for the field report Rhys – that’s very sad to hear. Such a shame when bars throw away heritage, reputation and history (things very hard to obtain, and harder to get back) for short-term gain like this.

  11. Talaton Talaton says:

    Heartily agree with Jay above.
    Several decades ago now, one had the good fortune to inbibe many a (1)singapore sling in the (2) old writers bar or indeed in the (3) hotel garden
    They say one should never go back…I did recently and what a travesty.
    All of the above three have gone the way of the dodo.
    That hotel garden is now an inacessable courtyard.
    The old writers bar with its classic victorian decor on the ground floor has been replaced by a souless featureless nothing chock-full of the worst kind of tourist scum.
    The current assembly line overpriced premixed slings tasted nothing like the sublime handmade SIXTEEN INGREDIENT singapore slings they made in my day.

  12. Rhys Rhys says:

    As dissapointed as I was with the cocktail, I feel that I must add that overall, Raffles hotel continues to be an amazing hotel – beyond the horrible crowds and drinks of the long bar, the customer service was excellent, the room was perfect and the overall experience of staying there was very positive. Being greeted by name by the staff as you walk through the hotel makes one feel very special (how do they do that? – Most of them had bever set eyes on me before!)

    Perhaps we can perusade them to bring back the Sling to it’s former glory.

  13. Jay Jay says:

    Talaton – Do you remember what ingredients went in to the Sling you enjoyed back in better times?

    Rhys – I’d love to think they do one day seek to recapture what made the drink iconic in the first place. My inner cynic doesn’t hold out much hope though!

  14. Colin Kimball Colin Kimball says:

    Here is a link to a series I produce called The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess in which he mixes up the Straight’s Sling:

  15. Watts Watts says:

    Colin, does that mean I should blame you for having the drink be identified as a “Straight’s Sling” rather than a “Straits Sling”? :)

  16. Colin Kimball Colin Kimball says:

    Yes. Most definitely. Sometimes typos get the bet of me.

  17. Classics. Pt 4 – The Singapore Sling « Boredom Breeds Beauty says:

    [...] bits and pieces of history are found all over the web, one especially good bit of research is found here. A particular favourite fact about the drink is its availability for free on all classes of the [...]

  18. nabokov nabokov says:

    I humbly beg pardon, Jay. What do you shoot cocktails? I am interesting model of camera and camera lens.

    Thank you for the answer!

  19. Jay Jay says:

    Nabokov – I generally use the Canon 5D MkII with the 35mm f/1.4L and 135 f/2L lenses for all photos and videos on Oh Gosh!.

  20. The Charles H Baker collection « The London Cocktail Guide says:

    [...] Jamaican Black Stripe [...]

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