Gin sling of the Raffles Hotel.
By George Sinclair
The Singapore Sling
is often touted as a pre-Tiki, Tiki-style drink, due to its use of lime
juice, pineapple juice, and other ingredients. The Singapore Sling sold
across the bar at the Raffles Hotel, is served from pre-mixed jugs, much
to the horror of cocktail aficionados who make the pilgrimage to the sacred
Long Bar, purported hang-out for some icons as Somerset Maugham, Rudyard
Kipling, Joseph Conrad (author of "Heart of Darkness"), and
The menu of the Long
Bar reads like so: "The Singapore Sling was created at Raffles Hotel
at the turn-of-the-century by Hainanese-Chinese bartender, Mr. Ngiam Tong
Boon." And it continues: "In the Hotel's museum, visitors may
view the safe in which Mr. Ngiam locked away his precious recipe books,
as well as the Sling recipe hastily jotted on a bar-chit in 1936 by a
visitor to the Hotel who asked the waiter for it. Originally, the Singapore
Sling was meant as a woman's drink, hence the attractive pink colour.
Today, it is very definitely a drink enjoyed by all, without which any
visit to Raffles Hotel is incomplete."
The recipe for the
Singapore Sling is also included on the menu:
15 ml Cherry Brandy
120 ml Pineapple Juice
15 ml Lime Juice
7.5 ml Cointreau
7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
10 ml Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry
to pre-eminent cocktail historian Ted Haigh, author of "Vintage Cocktails
and Spirits" and a founder member of the Museum of the American Cocktail,
"Raffles no longer has the original recipe, a fact recorded by the
hotel biographer and by the Communications Department of Raffles Hotel."
So, if the Raffles
Hotel is not selling Singapore Slings made to the original recipe, then
what are they selling and where did their current recipe originate from?
The earliest references that I have been able to find for the pineapple-based
Singapore Sling are from 1977. All the 1977 references feature the nephew
of Ngiam Tong Boon, and have him telling the story of how his uncle invented
the Singapore Sling; There is never any evidence, and the authors of the
articles seem to always take Ngiam Tong Boon's nephew at his word:
Herald, 22nd April 1977.
"My uncle taught
me how to make this [the Singapore Sling], and I have taught my nephews
and my children," said Ngiam Dee Suan, mixing the Singapore Sling
from gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau and a mixture of fruit juices. His
back was turned to Raffles's "long bar" where Somerset Maugham
and Noel Coward, among others, sipped the delectable punch. It's never
occured to Ngiam that it might not be a part of his tradition - only members
of his family have worked at the long bar since his uncle Ngiam Tong Boon
invented the Sling there in 1915."
Other than Ngiam Dee
Saun's claims for his Uncles creation of the Singapore Sling there is
no other proof connecting Ngiam Tong Boon with the pineapple punch, now
claimed to be "The" Singapore Sling.
At the beginning
of the 1970s the Raffles Hotel fell on hard times, it was during this
period of turmoil that an Italian by the name of Roberto Pregarz was appointed
Manager of the establishment. It was Pregarz's duty to regain the Raffles
Hotel's former glory, and this he did: ""What I did was simply
go back into the past and try to recapture all the good features and services
which made the Raffles famous.", Pregarz is quoted as saying in the
pages of the Syracuse Herald Journal, 20th November 1977.
The most telling comment, coming from the same Syracuse Newspaper goes
researched the original recipe for the Singapore Sling (gin, cherry brandy
and sometimes Benedictine) and dug out old menus from famous occasions."
As you see the Singapore
Sling recipe was lost, and Pregarz looked for the original recipe; And
one would assume that Pregarz must have asked some of the people working
at the Raffles Hotel how exactly a Singapore Sling was meant to be made.
Pregarz may have spoken to Ngiam Tong Boon's nephew, and got the recipe
that is today called a Raffle's Singapore Sling.
Before the confusion
of the 1970s, there were many Singapore Sling recipes cited in newspapers
and cocktail books, which has lead to some assuming that it is impossible
to say what the original Singapore Sling actually was. However, if you
look at all the references to the Singapore Sling and then divide them
into two camps; those Slings actually drunk at the Raffles Hotel, and
those Slings simply drunk in the city of Singapore, it is then that you
get a clearer picture, and a definitive answer.
It may come as a surprise
but the Singapore Sling made at the Raffle Hotel, prior to the 1970s,
was not actually referred to as the Singapore Sling; Here are some quotes:
Charleston Gazette, 16th May 1966.
"AT THE FAMOUS
old Raffles Hotel, It seems absolutely indecent not to stand up when they
serve you your Singapore Sling (known here, by the way, simply as a gin
sling) and shout "God save the queen" before downing your tot
and then throwing the glass against the wall."
Daily Courier, 3rd July 1949.
"Dream, for example
of a lovely courtyard in old Singapore, Malay attendants, white dinner
jackets, lovely inscrutable ladies, coconut palms and the Hotel Raffles
Gin Sling. This boon to mankind is said to consist of proper applications
of dry gin, cherry brandy and Benedictine, shaken for a moment, and stirred
in a bar glass, ice-chilled, filled to taste with chilled club soda and
garnished with a spiral peel of a green lime."
have a recipe for the Hotel Raffles Gin Sling, and it matches perfectly
with the Singapore Sling recipe given by Charles Baker in his
1939 book, The Gentleman's Companion:
formula is 1/3 each of dry gin, cherry brandy and Benedictine; shake it
for a moment, or stir in in a barglass, with 2 fairly large lumps of ice
to chill. Turn into a small 10 oz highball glass with one lump of ice
left in and fill up to individual taste with chilled club soda. Garnish
with the spiral peel of 1 green lime. In other ports in the Orient drinkers
often use C & C ginger ale instead of soda, or even stone bottle ginger
newspaper journalist lists the exact recipe from the Raffles Hotel:
Humboldt Standard, 11th May 1966.
"And while we're
in that neck of the woods, here is the Singapore Sling - from the noted
Raffles Hotel. This is served ornamented with a spirally cut peel of lime,
such as we used to enjoy in our childhood served in a glass of gingerale
and called a "Horse's Neck," You need the finest, dryest gin
you can obtain to make it perfectly. Also, fine cherry brandy and then
Benedictine. At Raffles' they use equal parts, but we recommend increasing
the percentage of gin to your own taste. Shake the mixture with a few
ice cubes, then strain into a chilled highball glass with 1 ice cube -
fill as far as you wish with chilled club soda, and decorate with the
In the February
15th 1939 edition of the Oakland Tribune, a certain Vic Bergeron
ran an advert for the benefit of the residents of Oakland, and the visitors
to the exposition being held at that time in the city; The restaurant
was "Trader Vics", and the advert listed, amongst other international
drinks, a "Raffles Bar Sling, from Singapore".
Note: The same advert
also listed a "Mojito, from Habana"
was a man who liked to get his hands on original recipes, and would travel
far and wide to get them. The recipe for the Raffles Bar/ Hotel Sling
is given in his Trader Vic Bartender's Guide, 1948:
Raffles Hotel Sling
1 oz. Dry Gin.
1 oz. Cherry Brandy.
1 oz. Benedictine.
Shake w/cracked ice,
strain into glass containing several lumps of ice; fill with chilled club
soda and garnish with lime peel spiral.
After listing the
Raffles Hotel Sling, Vic then goes on to list two different recipes for
drinks actually named as Singapore Slings. And there we have it, the Raffles
Hotel version of the Singapore Sling was not actually known by that name,
and all the sources which actually originate from the Raffles Hotel do
not differ in the recipes that they give. The other drinks called by the
name Singapore Sling, but being from the city of Singapore, rather than
the Raffles Hotel itself, vary a great deal, some recipes are just a Tom
Collins made red with cherry brandy, and others are just more complicated
versions of that.
I can not
finish this article without mentioning the 1922 recipe from Robert
Vermiere's Cocktails and How to Mix Them, as it is often cited
as the earliest known Singapore Sling recipe, even though it doesn't say
that the recipe comes directly from the Raffles' Hotel, and the recipe
is titled "Straits Sling". The drink is referred to as a "well-known
Singapore drink", but it could have just been another of the multitude
of (City of) Singapore Slings.
Note that the recipe
contains half a gill of gin, which is 71 millilitres.
and shaken, contains:"
2 dashes of Orange
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters,
The juice of half a lemon
1/8 gill of Bénédictine.
1/8 gill of Dry Cherry Brandy
1/2 gill of Gin.
Pour into a tumbler
and fill up with cold soda water.
The current Singapore Sling served at the Raffles is a completely different
drink to that originally associated with the hotel in its heyday. The
Raffles Hotel Gin Sling did not contain any citrus juice, and it is not
known who created it or when it was created.