Monday, July 18, 2011

The Singapore Sling

In my effort to experience a wide range of classic cocktails without discrimination, I knew that the Singapore Sling was going to come up sometime.

When I think "Singapore Sling," my mind's eye conjures a picture of colonial outposts in Southeast Asia: mouldering rooms with lazy, rattan ceiling fans useless against the oppressive humidity; the unearthly sounds of screaming monkeys and the opium-vision of rainbow-plumaged birds careening beneath the dense jungle canopy; perhaps the sinister slither of a cobra beneath the mosquito-net-enclosed porch.

That's a bit rich (are there actually cobras there?), but you get the point. The Singapore Sling has a bit of exotic mystery around it. 

The Singapore Sling was created by a certain Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon, at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, in the early part of the twentieth century. The exact date can be argued, and other folks are better equipped to do that. Most sources agree it was invented before 1915. Some claim it was around as early as 1903. There is much debate around the authenticity of any Sling recipe. One claim to an "original" recipe is contradicted by another "original" recipe. The bigger issue is, as with all tropical umbrella drinks, time has seen the Sling debauched and debased; sweetened, weakened, and cheapened like a tart. It is hardly itself any more.

That said, there is no shortage of beguiling recipes out there. The one I am going to share is taken from a recipe in Imbibe Magazine, which also happens to have an article about the Sling as well, called "How the Sling was Slung." In that article, author David Wondrich writes:
With a 1903 reference to “pink slings for pale people,” we can begin to lay to rest the common argument that the reference to “dry cherry brandy” in Robert Vermiere’s 1922 Cocktails: How to Mix Them, the drink’s first appearance in a cocktail book, means that it should be made with a clear kirschwasser rather than a red liqueur such as Cherry Heering. Add the fact that the only cherry brandies that turn up in local liquor advertisements are the red Bols cherry brandy or the aforementioned Heering (at the time, Bols had a dry version of its regular cherry brandy, which was its standard version blended with Cognac).
Wondrich is arguing that the "dry cherry brandy" called for in a Singapore Sling is most likely the red Cherry Heering. On the other hand, author Jason Wilson suggests in a Washington Post article that the "cherry brandy" in the recipe is the clear kirschwasser - because Heering is not really a true brandy.

Who's right? Who cares? Both contenders have decent recipes that taste good; that aren't cheapened with pre-made mix; that remain refreshing and tall. I prefer the Sling made with Cherry Heering. I like its red hue, and its combination of tartness and sweetness. The Sling made with kirschwasser is drier and more floral, thanks to the brandy. Here's what I say: Try both!

Below is the recipe taken from Imbibe Magazine. You can find a variation at, in which there is more gin and less liqueurs, plus pineapple juice. For the recipe with kirschwasser, see the Washington Post.

The Singapore Sling

1 oz London dry gin
1 oz Cherry Heering
1 oz Bénédictine
1 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz soda water
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Take the first four ingredients and put them in a shaker with ice. Give it a quick shake and strain into a tall, ice-filled glass. Top it up with the soda water, and add the bitters as a float on top. Amazingly for an umbrella drink, this has no garnish. If you can't live with that, take a hunk of pineapple or a lime, and stick a plastic umbrella or sword in it, and use that (see illustration, left).

Bottoms up!

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