The History of the Singapore Sling

There are not many cocktails that can claim to be as controversial as the Singapore Sling. The actual recipe is a source of much debate, with many different variations of the cocktail to be found on the internet. The cocktail was created in the very upmarket Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and may have started out as the Gin Sling, Strait Sling or the Commander.
One of the stories told, is that the drink was created when an Officer walked into the Long Bar and saw a beautiful lady sitting there. He asked Boon to create a cocktail that matched her red lips and the result was the Singapore Sling. The actual date that it was created is ambiguous, and although the original recipe is largely recognized as being created by barman Ngiam Tang Boon, even that is disputed by some historians.
The Raffles Hotel is still world famous for its Singapore Sling, but admits its recipe is different to the original. Boon’s recipe is thought to have been lost around the mid-20th century as the drink was not so popular and the bar stopped serving it. The version now offered to customers was recreated by Boon’s nephew who tried to keep the recipe as close to his uncle’s version as possible, using old recipe books, bartender’s memories, and scribbled notes as his guide.

The hotel now serves the cocktail as a pre-mix drink as it has become so popular they don’t have the time to make them from scratch. The original drink is thought to be quite simple, with only gin, cherry brandy and fruit juice. However, the hotel’s current version includes Gordon’s gin, Cherry Heering, pineapple juice, Cointreau, Dom benedict, Bols grenadine, and a dash of Angostura Bitter and they blend, rather than shake the cocktail, to get the frothy top. Some people suspect that the original also had soda water, while others argue that cherry brandy was not an ingredient. These people say the colour of the original drink was pink, and that cherry brandy would have made it red. Some versions use fresh lemon juice and some use bottled sweet and sour and even the measure of each ingredient is up for debate. The drink is nearly always garnished with a maraschino cherry and either a slice of pineapple or lemon.

Altogether there are thought to be more than 40 variations of the cocktail, although some of these bear no resemblance to the original concoction. Other trusted recipes come from the International Bartender’s Association and the Savoy Cocktail book.

A visit to the Raffles Hotel is not complete without a taste of the famous Singapore Sling. The cocktail has been often copied, but never bettered.

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Bartender's top tip

Keep your cocktail costs down. If you have favourite spirits or ingredients to make your cocktails, buy bigger bottles to keep your costs lower.

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