Many classic cocktails have an uncertain history due to a lack of record-keeping, or a long game of telephone where one name, or ingredient, was inaccurately transformed into another over the course of time. The Singapore Sling, however, might be the most convoluted of all because of the myriad of ingredients it contains, but there are a few things that have been uncovered thus far. For starters, the cocktail isn’t even a sling.
According to renowned cocktail historian David Wondrich — who has done the work of the cocktail gods by sifting through various texts and archives to unravel when and where the cocktail originated, and what was originally in it — there are a few ingredients that are a part of the recipe for certain. Gin, a cherry brandy (kirschwasser style), Bénédictine, lime juice, and a few dashes of bitters seem to be the constants based on a mention of this particular formula in the Singapore Weekly Sun in 1915.
Singapore’s Raffles Hotel claims to have invented the drink in 1915, but Wondrich also disproved that assertion pointing out that the earliest mention of a sling-style cocktail was in 1897, and that in 1903 “pink slings for pale people,” was a quote he stumbled on while conducting his research on the subject. According to his panel discussion at Tales of the Cocktail in 2017, The Raffles Hotel in Singapore needed to up their business so they “found” the inventor’s recipe in a safe.
That said, the Raffles has since popularized the cocktail, taking pride in its relative fashionability, and stating on its website that “the Singapore Sling is widely regarded as the national drink of the country,” although their version now includes pineapple juice, grenadine, dry curaçao, and a couple other additions that stray from the suspected classic formula. While some of the details are a bit blurry — and some may be lost to history — the modern manifestation of the cocktail is one worth contemplating. Here is our take on how to craft the best modern interpretation of the Singapore Sling.
Historically, gin slings — the most popular kind — are made with gin, a lump of sugar, and a few gratings of nutmeg. It is the predecessor to the Old Fashioned which is referred to as a bittered sling, and was first defined in 1806 in the Balance and Columbian Repository in Hudson, NY. The Singapore Sling strays from this traditional sling cocktail format, and strays more into the realm of punch-style cocktails which are made of sour, sugar, spirit, water, and spice.
While many of the versions you may try at bars are heavy on the pineapple juice, our recipe tapers back this ingredient and only adds a barspoon of grenadine to keep the “pink sling” color, and not throw the cocktail out of balance with too much juice. Gin takes the center stage and the liqueurs are used as modifiers to add accented flavors that help add depth and complexity. One ounce of fresh lime juice brightens up the cocktail to avoid a cloying mixture of juices and sugary liqueurs, and soda water dries it out and adds a fluffy texture to the pineapple juice that adds visual appeal.
This recipe provides you with a more balanced template, but I am convinced that it will always be one of those cocktails up for subjective interpretation because of its mucky origins.
- 1.5 oz gin
- .25 oz Bénédictine
- .25 oz Cointreau
- .25 oz Cherry Heering
- 1 oz lime juice
- .75 oz pineapple juice
- Barspoon of grenadine
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 2 oz soda water
- Garnish: brandied cherry, pineapple wedge and a sprig of mint
- Add all ingredients except for soda to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until chilled.
- Strain over ice into a Collins glass and top with soda.
- Garnish with a brandied cherry, a pineapple wedge, and the optional mint sprig.
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