The Oldest Known Straits Sling Recipe.
I will preface this by saying this is the oldest recipe I could find so far. I looked through quite a few books between the 1890s to 1930s, and this is the first recipe I could find. I saw a few articles saying it was in the 1922 book Cocktails: How to mix them by Robert Vermeire, but I looked through that book and could not find it. So you will have to settle for this 1930s recipe, but this is a Savoy recipe, and the recipes from this book are almost always spot on. I have modified the recipe to be single-serve here, but they write it as a sizeable 6-person drink in the Savoy.
The History Of Sling Cocktails.
Slings are a very old style of cocktail. Even in Harry Johnson’s 1888 edition of The Bartenders Manual, he comments under the cold whiskey sling that “This is an old-fashioned drink generally called for by old gentlemen.” The oldest cocktail book I could find to have a sling recipe is the 1862 Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas. He has three recipes for both hot and cold slings. Interestingly enough, he groups both slings with toddies. The only difference is slings have nutmeg grated on top, and toddies do not. Often most early cocktails started as medicinal drinks, and the brandy and gin sling appear in a few medical journals from the 1830s.
In the August 1832 Boston medical and surgical journal, on page 15, the author notes giving a patient 1 to 5 grains of opium with a hot brandy sling to treat spotted fever and malignant cholera. Further linking its history to toddies, I found a September 1845 court case of the Massachusetts Commonwealth vs. Chester R. White. He sold a toddy/sling to a Mr. Edwin T. Rogers without a spirituous liquor license. Mr. White argued that it contained an ingredient that was a spirit, but the mixed drink itself was not a spirit. Mr. White did not win the case, but the court documents’ wording of the drink is essential.
“It was sold in the form of gin and brandy, mixed with sugar and water so as to make what is called a toddy or sling.”
The court documents recognize toddies and slings as analogous to each other. In a case about the exact definition of a spirituous beverage, the court referred to the same drink as being called both a toddy or sling. Seventeen years later, Jerry Thomas would see toddies and slings as the same thing, and so did this court. This makes sense too. If you check out my Hot Toddy article, I describe how in the 18-century, toddies were used to administer medicines. Sling appears to be a later way of describing a toddy as a drink one throws back. I assume that this is perhaps due to how people often quickly drink medicine to avoid undesirable flavors. Etymologically the word sling entered English from the old Norse word “Slyngva,” which means to throw or knockdown, and this is the more common usage, but about the drink, the word sling comes from the German word “Schlingen,” which means to swallow. Webster’s American dictionary dates this usage of the word to have entered the American dialect around 1807.
The more popular Singapore Sling and Straits Sling bear no resemblance to the traditional sling. It seems they were referring to them as slings to be more for fun alliteration than to refer to how the drink should be consumed.
A Short History Of The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel In London.
In 1893, The American Bar at the Savoy hotel started serving American-style cocktails in London to the British upper class. The American Bar has always been a high-end bar but what set it on the map was when Harry Craddock became its head bartender in the 1920s. Harry Craddock was a British-born bartender who immigrated to the United States, eventually becoming a US citizen and head bartender of several high-end hotel bars. Still, Harry found himself out of work with the start of prohibition in 1920. He then immigrated back to England and became head bartender of the Savoy Hotel’s Bar. Harry transformed The American Bar from a high-end bar to one of the seminal cocktail bars of the 20th century. As the American prohibition was ending, the hotel realized it should record all of its most famous recipes and the innovations Harry brought to the bar. A year later, they published the Savoy Cocktail Book. Printed in 1934, the Savoy Cocktail Book documents the bar’s best recipes from the 1890s to the 1930s and stands as the pillar of prohibition-era European cocktail innovation. If Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide is the best cocktail book the 1800s gave us, then The Savoy Cocktail Book is the best cocktail book of the first half of the 1900s. I don’t think I will ever be able to drink there, though. A cocktail cost around $250 there, and they have one that’s almost $1000, and I’m not the Amazon guy, so good thing we have their recipe book.
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