Who invented the Singapore Sling? That Raffles barman, surely?
As city state marks 50 years, its most famous drink is officially turning 100. But some are convinced its origins date to two years earlier, at least
Singapore is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its independence, and the city state's national drink is also toasting a significant birthday. This year marks the centenary of the Singapore Sling, the cocktail created by a Chinese bartender, at least according to one theory; the history of the tipple is somewhat disputed.
Singapore institution Raffles Hotel is celebrating the pink concoction's birthday, claiming it was created at the hotel in 1915 by barman Ngiam Tong Boon, originally from Hainan. Peter Heering, the maker of Heering Cherry Liqueur - a vital ingredient of the Singapore Sling - is also commemorating the cocktail's 100th this year.
The story has been repeated in articles and books around the world and become cocktail folklore but not everyone agrees.
"The precise date of creation of the world's most famous cocktail is shrouded in mystery. Some say the Singapore Sling, sometimes called the gin sling, was first mixed one hot afternoon in 1915," writes Gretchen Liu in the coffee table tome Raffles Hotel. Liu continues: "Others are equally certain that it was available to thirsty guests at least a decade earlier."
The hotel's resident historian, Leslie Danker, has dispelled many myths about Raffles history. But Danker is sure that the origin of the Singapore Sling can be traced to Boon in 1915. "The management staff at the hotel prior to the restoration in 1991 carried out extensive research into the origins of the Singapore Sling," says Danker. "They went through all the hotel records they could locate and found no mention of the Singapore Sling prior to 1915. It was therefore estimated that the cocktail was created in 1915."
Danker also gives an amusing reason behind the Singapore Sling's creation: "At the time, ladies were not meant to be seen drinking in public. As the bartender created a recipe that was pink, no one knew that the ladies were drinking gin."
However, Lucas Swallows, mixologist for the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, was inspired to make the Singapore Sling 1913 based on an article he'd read by cocktail historian David Wondrich. "Wondrich found a story from the Singapore Weekly Sun in 1913 that talks about a group of gentlemen at the Singapore Cricket Club ordering red slings. At the time a sling was a derogatory term for something you drank when you had a hangover. It was usually gin with a sugary mixture to sweeten it and bitters to take the edge off," says Swallows.
"The bartender refused so the gentleman ordered one shot of gin, one shot of cherry brandy, one shot of DOM Benedictine, a splash of soda water and some limes and mixed it themselves."
Wondrich also found earlier references to gin slings in Singapore in 1897 plus a comment about "pink slings for pale people" in 1903.
When Swallows moved to Singapore in 2012 as bar manager of Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza, he recreated the cocktail he'd read about. "Our recipe follows the equal measure parts to bring the drink into balance. It's a very nice herbal flavour, but you can also taste the gin and the DOM. It's fruity but it finishes dry."
The original recipe for Boon's Singapore Sling is long lost, but Raffles head bartender Aron Manzanillo shares the current recipe: gin (30ml), cherry brandy (15ml), Cointreau (7.5ml), DOM Benedictine (7.5ml), Angostura bitters (dash), grenadine (10ml), pineapple juice (120ml) and lime juice (15ml). Perhaps Boon added pineapple juice and coined the phrase Singapore Sling, but it's impossible to say definitively.
Until the end of the year Raffles is offering a Singapore Sling masterclass where you can learn to make the famous drink in the Long Bar. There's also a Singapore Sling 100th anniversary package where an overnight stay includes a private workshop in the Long Bar.
Singapore's golden jubilee on August 9 has prompted a flurry of new sling creations from bars across the city state. This includes the Singapore Cricket Club, which is offering the SCC SG50 of gin, triple sec, grenadine syrup and fresh lime juice until the end of this month.
One of the tastiest is the sweet-and-sour Straits of Sling at Potato Head Folk, available until August 31. A key ingredient is a home-brewed pandan syrup, which gives the drink a brownish rather than red tinge. This version still has cherry liqueur.
Says Potato Head Folk bar manager Mohammad Irwan: "There are a lot of new variations on the Singapore Sling, but a lot of them don't include cherry liqueur - and that's what makes it a sling."