Mother of the Singapore Sling?
Most people have heard of the Singapore Sling Cocktail, a drink created in the early 20th century at the Raffles Hotel (located in—no surprise—Singapore).
But the original recipe for the Singapore Sling was lost. What we have today is a recreation, and maybe not an exact one. Some mixologists think the Singapore Sling is a not-quite-accurate rendition of another drink that was being served at the Raffles Hotel bar around that time—one called the Straits Sling (locals called Singapore the “Straits”).
More about all this later. For now, the important thing to know about the Straits Sling is that it’s less complicated to make than the Singapore Sling (fewer ingredients). It also has a bright, perky flavor that’s not nearly as sweet. Which makes it a perfect drink for celebrating the last weeks of summer.
Recipe: The Straits Sling Cocktail
So how does the Straits Sling differ from the Singapore Sling? Well, the Straits Sling uses dry cherry brandy (kirschwasser), while the Singapore Sling uses sweet cherry liqueur (such as Cherry Heering). The Singapore Sling also includes additional sweetener in the form of Cointreau and grenadine, not to mention a healthy slug of pineapple juice. The Straits Sling is a more streamlined drink—which gives it a flavor that’s cleaner (and better, IMHO).
You can find quite a bit of information about the Straits Sling on the web. But the best source we know is Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. We highly recommend this book if you’re interested in learning more about classic cocktails.
Our recipe is very lightly adapted from Haigh’s (we adjusted the amount of lemon juice).
This cocktail takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 2 ounces gin (use “London” dry gin; see Notes)
- ½ ounce kirschwasser (dry cherry brandy; see Notes)
- ½ ounce Bénédictine (see Notes)
- 1 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 2 dashes orange bitters (see Notes)
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- ~1 ounce sparkling water (see Step 3; you can use club soda, seltzer, or any other mixer that is convenient, flavorless, and bubbly)
- orange slice or wedge and/or maraschino cherry for garnish (optional, but festive)
- Add all ingredients except the sparkling water and garnish to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice.
- Shake well and strain into a tall (10 ounce or so) glass filled with ice cubes.
- Top up with sparkling water (about an ounce—more if you need to fill the glass), then add a straw and stir to mix. Garnish with an orange slice or wedge and/or a maraschino cherry (if desired), and serve.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
- In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Both of these varieties are less common than London dry.
- Kirschwasser (which means cherry water in German) is a clear brandy made from cherries. It is dry (not sweet), and although it’s an ingredient in some cocktails, is more often served in a small glass as a before or after dinner drink. Any good liquor store will carry this, although probably only one or two brands. Look for an imported one for best quality (Germany produces some good ones).
- 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 Straits Sling (or a Singapore Sling, for that matter); there’s no substitute for this sweetish liqueur. You can’t substitute B & B (a mixture of Bénédictine and brandy) because the flavor is wrong (although B & B has a delightful taste of its own—drier than straight Bénédictine).
- Orange bitters can be hard to find, though any good liquor store should carry at least one brand. Angostura makes a good version of orange bitters, as do Fee Brothers and Bitter Truth. Our favorite brand is Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 (but for this drink, any decent brand should work).
- The “sling” was once a distinct class of drink (as were the swizzle, the daisy, the smash, and the cocktail). Today we use the term “cocktail” for almost any mixed drink.
- Slings originally were a cold version of toddies. Like a toddy, a traditional sling is a mix of spirits, sweetener, and water (often with a dusting of nutmeg). But toddies are always served hot, while 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. Being chilled, a sling includes ice too.
- Over the years, slings became more elaborate, adding ingredients (but dropping the nutmeg). The Straits Sling is a good example of a contemporary sling—though the Singapore Sling is not (which is ironic, since it tends to be the only sling-class drink that most people can name). Ted Haigh argues that the Singapore Sling is really more like a punch (pineapple juice takes it out of the sling category).
- Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender at the Raffles Hotel "Long Bar" circa 1915, is often credited with inventing the Singapore Sling. Over time his recipe was lost, however, and it’s not clear that the version of the drink we know these days is an accurate recreation. (You can find a modern version of the recipe in our post on the Singapore Sling.)
- The Singapore Sling has a sweet taste and a bright red hue that sometimes verges on neon. By contrast, the Straits Sling is dryer tasting and looks much more subdued. The differences in sweetness and color both derive in part from the different “cherry” components used in the two drinks—sweet red cherry liqueur in the case of the Singapore Sling, versus dry cherry brandy in the Straits Sling.
- Some cocktail historians speculate that the Straits Sling was the original (and only) sling-class drink served at the Raffles Hotel in the early days of the 20th century. They suggest that our modern recipe for the Singapore Sling is just a mistaken attempt to recreate that early drink (thus making the Straits Sling the “mother” of the modern Singapore Sling).
- Other people believe the two drinks were always distinct, though they happened to share several ingredients in common (and both originated in Singapore).
- Who knows which version of the story (if either) is true? What we do know is that both the Singapore Sling and the Straits Sling are good drinks—and it’s nice to have choices.
“Interesting pictures this time,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping her Straits Sling Cocktail. “Especially the last one.”
“Kitty Riffs hopped up on the set,” I said. “I tripped the shutter just as she was checking out the glass.”
“So I guess our blog will go viral now,” said Mrs K R.
“Yup,” I said. “Since everyone knows the internet is all about cute pictures of cats.”
“I hear some feline celebs have their own PR operations,” said Mrs K R.
“And I’m sure Kitty Riffs will soon join their ranks,” I added.
“Unfortunately, I don't think you captured her best side,” said Mrs K R.
“Probably not,” I said. “The lighting was all directed towards the drink.”
“Too bad,” said Mrs K R. “You’ll probably be hearing about that from her agent.”
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