Today at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’re mixing up the Singapore Sling as Drink of the Day. That’s because on February 6, 1819 Sir Stamford Bingley Raffles declared the foundation of what would become modern Singapore. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable: the Raffles Hotel. Raffles claims the Singapore Sling was born in its bar, but this assertion and the ingredient list are contested. But sometimes when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. So today we’re paying tribute to the man Raffles with the Singapore Sling recipe served at the Raffles Hotel.
Stamford Raffles and Singapore
Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles was born in 1781 aboard a ship off the coast of Jamaica. He started his career as a clerk for the East India Company (see East India Cocktail) while a teenager. He was sent to Malaysia when he was about 24 years old, and this started his long association with Southeast Asia. Raffles held a variety of posts in Malacca and Java. He acted as an ambassador negotiating certain peace treaties as well as a commander of military operations against other European nations vying for territory and against local tribes to establish British rule.
After the Napoleonic Wars left Java in the hands of the Netherlands he returned to England. He was soon back in Bencoolen (part of Malaysia). Raffles felt it was necessary to establish a British presence to challenge the Dutch hegemony in the area.
To cut to the chase, in January 1819 he established a post at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and determined there was no Dutch presence on the island of Singapore. On February 6 he declared the foundation what was to become modern Singapore, and through a treaty with the local leader transferred ownership of the island to the East India Company. He also ordered that the trading post was owned by the British alone but free passage was allowed for all ships through the Strait of Singapore. So he did have a nice side.
While Singapore’s most most famous hotel bears his name Stamford Raffles had nothing to do with it. Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, established the hotel nearly 50 years after Raffles’ death. It was a ten-room hotel when it opened in 1887 and expanded by adding new wings and rebuilding old structures.
The hotel built its bar, known as the Long Bar, as part of this expansion. The name was appropriate, as it consumed an entire side of a large room filled with tables. Sadly, it’s now a shell of what it was after being downsized and moved in a 1991 renovation. Your correspondent took the photo accompanying this article there in 2008, but we are unsure if they still use the abominable fluorescent red cherries as garnish.
The Singapore Sling
Raffles Hotel claims Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender we discussed in the context of the Million Dollar cocktail, created the drink there in 1915. This story, like many things in booze, is contested. A sling itself is a very simple, early cocktail formula: spirit, water, sugar. From that point they got more complicated with the addition of juices and modifying liqueurs.
According to David Wondrich in The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, Singapore residents started adding cherry brandy to slings around 1900. Various slings were concocted across the British empire in Asia, commonly employing Benedictine, cherry brandy, or Curacao.
Wondrich reports that the original version of the Singapore Sling contained just gin, Cherry Heering, Benedictine, lime juice and soda. He goes on to explain that Raffles served something like that until 1974 when they “improved” it. That just meant using less of the costly Benedictine and Heering and adding additional juice. Raffles, of course, claimed that they found the original lost recipe. We are skeptical, so if you’re leaning toward the original just make a Tom Collins, substituting lime for the lemon and adding a bit of Heering and Benedictine if you’ve got ’em.
In his 1948 tome The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury notes “Of all the recipes published for this drink, I have never seen any two that were alike.” This conundrum continues to the present day. The Singapore Sling is an IBA Official Cocktail and their ingredient list is like the current drink at Raffles. So that’s how we’re rolling today.
- Collins or Highball Glass
- 1 oz Gin
- ½ oz Cherry Heering
- ¼ oz Cointreau
- ¼ oz Benedictine
- ¼ oz Grenadine
- 4 oz pineapple Juice
- ½ oz Fresh lime juice
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Garnish: Pineapple wedge and cherry
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake to chill.
- Strain over ice in a tall glass.
I didn’t know that.