The History Of The Singapore Sling.
The Singapore sling was invented in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon while working at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Singapore Sling was listed as a simple gin sling on the cocktail menu, but its uniqueness garnered it the nickname of the Singapore Sling. Like Henry Ramos thought of his famous cocktail as standard gin fizz, the rest of the world saw it as a Ramos gin fizz.
Early cocktail history from Singapore is almost non-existent. The earliest documentation of the Singapore Sling comes from the 1939 “The Gentleman’s Companion, An Exotic Drinking Book,” where author Charles Baker jr. recounts his wild drinking adventures in 1920s Southeast Asia. The book’s structure is terrible and reads more like a man stroking his ego than a cocktail book, but It’s incredible a book like this exists. There are some fantastic and unique drinks in it I would like to incorporate when I have the time. In the book, Charles Baker jr. tells a story about him and a friend drinking Singapore Slings at the Hotel Raffles in 1926. The recipe he provides is substantially different from what you will find today. Different from the ones sold at the Ruffles Hotel today. The recipe he gives is more like a traditional sling, whereas most modern recipes are tiki-like. Not quite a traditional sling, but close enough. In the 1800s, Slings were another name for a toddy, and most 19th and early 20th-century cocktail books grouped the two. If you would like a detailed account of sling and toddy history, check out the “The History of Sling Cocktails” section below.
According to Charles Baker, Ngiam Tong Boon’s original recipe was equal parts dry gin, cherry brandy, and benedictine, shaken together and poured into a highball glass with ice. The drink was then topped off with soda water (that’s the weird part. A traditional sling uses standard water) and garnished with a lime peel.
Interestingly, this recipe appears in the 1948 edition of Trader Vic’s Bartenders Guide but is named the Raffles Hotel Sling. The Singapore sling recipe listed in that book looks like the juice and syrup kind we are typically used to seeing today.
What Does The Singapore Sling Taste Like?
The Singapore sling is herbal, boozy, lightly sweet, and refreshing. It’s more similar to a Japanese highball than a sweet tiki cocktail. It’s delicious and something I can easily drink 2 or 3 of. The primary flavor in this is the Benedictine, while the other two spirits add backbone and fortification to the Singapore Sling. I vastly prefer this original Singapore Sling to the contemporary versions of it.
Is The Singapore Sling Tiki?
The original Singapore sling is not a tiki cocktail, but the modern recipes are tiki-like. The original Singapore Sling is mostly sling-like (technically, it should be classified as a highball), and over time it evolved into the juice and syrup-filled cocktail it is today. I have a feeling the Singapore Sling recipes filled with pineapple juice, grenadine, and such that we are used to today were invented in the tiki world.
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.