Singapore Sling

(Polish version: Kuchnia, August 2010)

Bounded by Country and Bar

For better or worse, some drinks are firmly associated with a bar and country. The Singapore Sling is just that.

In Venice, Harry’s Bar is the place to go for a Bellini. Havana can boast of Daiquiri in El Floridita Bar. And Singapore’s claim to cocktail fame is undoubtedly the Singapore Sling, a cheerful pink concoction of juices and liqueurs. The place to have it is the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel.

“Up to 2,000 glasses are sold on a good day,” says Subramaniam Sellakutty, a bartender with 10 years experience at the Long Bar.

The Raffles is no ordinary hotel but a historical colonial building where the rich and famous bed down. The star-studded guest list includes Queen Elizabeth II and Hugh Jackman. The Long Bar, though, is accessible to mere mortals for the price of a Sling – that’s S$29.45 (about 65 zł). Factored into the price is no doubt the bar’s unique ambience, tuned to remind of the pioneering heydays. I find the brown colour scheme and rattan furniture to be stuffy and dated. However, it appeals to tourists saying cheese with the tall glass garnished with a cherry and slice of pineapple, and a drinking straw.

While citation is needed to ascertain Mr. Constantino Ribalaigua as the creator of Daiquiri Floridita, the Raffles’ archives state confidently that “the Singapore Sling was created at the Raffles Hotel at the turn-of-the-century by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon”.

“Turn-of-the-century” translates to around 1915. And before Singapore got into the name, it was probably called “Straits Sling”. By slapping a national identity on the drink, Singapore has secured the sole custody. Otherwise, “Straits Sling” could sell just as well in Malaysia and Indonesia, which the Strait of Melaka glides pass.

Other points of contention were raised by drinks writer Ted Haigh, also known as Dr. Cocktail, who questioned the original recipe. To the question of whether pineapple juice was there from the start, the Raffles PR people’s answer was, “We do not have this information in our historical records.”

A lot of history has passed since Mr. Ngiam’s days. The drink has achieved global fame and become a must-do item for visitors to the island. The business day for the cocktail at the Long Bar starts as early as noon. To cater to the demand, the Sling is pre-mixed and whisked to your table in a jiffy. But if you wish for one that’s freshly shaken, ask and they will gladly oblige.

You have sensed by now that this isn’t an everyday after work drink. It’s a holiday tipple or a novelty item to show to guests visiting you in Singapore. In the five years when the island city was my snail-mail address, I never gave the drink a thought. It is only when I returned one year to visit family and friends, and in the spirits of playing tourist, we went to the Long Bar for a Sling and the other must-do ritual of chucking peanut shells on the floor.

In Poland, Patryk Le Nart, owner of Międzynarodowa Szkoła Barmanów i Sommelierów, reports that the Singapore Sling is a nowhere to be found on the menu of the bars he has visited in Warsaw. “Although bartenders here know how to make this drink, the popular cocktails here are mojito, caipirinha, Cuba Libre and strawberry margarita,” he says. “Singapore Sling is more of a woman’s drink. It has a lot of filler (like club soda).”

True enough, according to the Raffles’ records, the drink was originally designed for a lady. However, Subramaniam noted that at the Long Bar, an equal ratio of both sexes order the cocktail.

In cashing in on the Long Bar and Singapore Sling partnership, the Raffles PR machinery has turned the cocktail into a hostage of its establishment. At the cocktail’s birthplace, icy sweet and pink through a straw makes sense. Elsewhere, the cocktail is not quite at home.

Recipe courtesy of the Long Bar

30 ml Gin, 15 ml Heering Cherry Liqueur, 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, a slice of Pineapple and Cherry as garnish

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and top with ice cubes.  Shake well and strain into a Singapore Sling glass. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry.

Note: If you can’t get hold of DOM Benedictine, Subramaniam suggested the yellow or green Chartreuse, another herb-based liqueur, as a substitute.

(Polish version: Kuchnia, August 2010)