Colorful, Exotic, Legendary — Yet Most of Us Have Never Tasted It
You’ve probably heard of this classic cocktail, but have you ever tasted one? No? Well, you’re not alone. It’s a drink people rarely think to order these days. That’s a shame, because the Singapore Sling is a tall looker with an enticing flavor. Perfect for summer sippin’.
The Singapore Sling originated in the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore (natch) sometime between 1905 and 1915. The whiz who created the drink was one of the establishment’s bartenders, Ngiam Tong Boon. It was an instant hit, and earned the hotel worldwide fame. Over time, however, the cocktail — and the Raffles Hotel — fell out of favor. The hotel even lost the recipe.
A wide variety of recipes for the drink have sprung up since then, many claiming to be “authentic.” We may never know the precise ingredients and proportions of the original recipe. But cocktail sleuths and historians have done yeoman’s duty researching the composition of the drink. So today we have a good “standard” recipe.
And what a drink that recipe produces! Once you taste it, the Singapore Sling just might become your favorite summer cooler.
Recipe: The Singapore Sling
A sling — like a toddy — is a mix of spirits, sweetener, and water. Toddies are always served hot, but slings can be either hot or cold. And toddies are usually made with plain water, while slings typically use sparkling water like club soda, or even ginger ale. A gin sling, for instance, consists of simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin combined in a tall glass, and topped off with club soda.
The Singapore Sling follows the same basic concept as the gin sling, but it’s a more complicated drink (some say it should really be called a tropical punch). People often think of it as a Tiki drink, and it certainly looks Tiki. It wears a little umbrella well and contains a couple of different fruit juices.
Unlike most Tiki drinks, though, it contains no rum. Instead, the base spirit is gin. It also contains Cointreau, Bénédictine, and Cherry Herring.
The Singapore Sling takes about 5 minutes to mix, and this recipe serves one. The source of my recipe is Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (a book I highly recommend if you’re interested in classic cocktails).
- 2 ounces gin (I like Beefeater’s in this drink, but any name brand works)
- ¾ ounce Cherry Herring (you can substitute another cherry-flavored brandy, but Cherry Herring is perfect for this drink)
- 2 teaspoons Bénédictine
- 2 teaspoons Cointreau
- 2 ounces pineapple juice (since I only use pineapple juice in drinks, I buy those little 6-ounce cans to minimize waste)
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/8 teaspoon Homemade Grenadine (may substitute store bought)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 ounce seltzer or club soda (more or less—see Step 3)
- pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry garnish (optional; some people like an orange wheel too)
- Add all ingredients (except seltzer and garnish) to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice.
- Shake well and strain into a tall (10 - 12 ounce) glass filled with ice cubes.
- Top with seltzer or club soda (about an ounce), add a straw and stir to mix. Garnish with pineapple wedge and/or maraschino cherry.
- There is no substitute for Cointreau in this drink, IMO. Grand Marnier doesn’t really work, and a less expensive triple sec just doesn’t deliver the proper flavor.
- Bénédictine is an aromatic herbal liqueur. Based on the name, you might assume that it’s produced by Benedictine monks. In fact, it was invented in 1863 by Alexandre Le Grand, a French wine merchant and industrialist. Le Grand did, however, boost sales by claiming that monks at a Benedictine Abbey in Normandy had developed the beverage.
- You really do need Bénédictine to make a proper Singapore Sling — there’s no substitute for this sweetish liqueur. You can’t substitute B & B (a mixture of Bénédictine and brandy). The flavor is wrong (although B & B has a delightful taste of its own — drier than Bénédictine).
- Modern Singapore Slings have a red hue because of the Cherry Herring and grenadine they contain. But some people claim that the original drink actually used a clear, dry cherry brandy (like kirschwasser). Made this way, the drink would have been light-colored, not reddish.
- One such recipe is suggested by David Wondrich. His Singapore Sling calls for an ounce of gin, an ounce of Bols cherry brandy (you can substitute Cherry Herring, but that will color the drink), an ounce of Bénédictine, and an ounce of lime juice. Shake, then pour into a tall glass and top with club soda.
- Ted Haigh says another sling cocktail was popular in Singapore around the same time as the Singapore Sling: the Straits Sling (the name is significant because locals called Singapore the “Straits”). Want to make one? You’ll need 2 ounces of gin, ½ ounce kirschwasser, ½ ounce Bénédictine, 1 ounce lemon juice, 2 dashes of orange bitters, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Shake, strain into an ice-filled tall glass, and top off with club soda. It’s somewhat similar to Wondrich’s drink.
- Could the Straits Sling actually have been the original Singapore Sling? Who knows?
Use Pineapple Juice!
Although Wondrich’s Singapore Sling and the Straits Sling are pretty good drinks, I think the tastiest of all is a Singapore Sling made with pineapple juice and grenadine — the recipe I provide above. It’s also much prettier.
My recipe does have a downside. It requires two ingredients that you may not find many other uses for: Bénédictine and Cherry Herring (although Bénédictine is a nice after-dinner drink, particularly mixed with brandy – you can make your own B & B). The upside? This drink is so good, you’ll want to make it often!
And Labor Day is coming up soon. If you serve Singapore Slings to the crowd at your annual Labor Day cookout, you’ll put a pretty good dent in those bottles of Bénédictine and Cherry Herring.
What’s that? You say you don’t usually have a Labor Day cookout? Well, shouldn’t you go for it this year? It’s one last chance to fire up the grill, and it’s a great excuse to drink something summery — like a Singapore Sling.
Your family and friends will be toasting your mixological brilliance. You party animal, you.
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