The Singapore Sling, created at the original Raffles hotel in 1915, has become one of the most famous cocktails. But there are also tantalising variations to be found at Raffles around the world
If you enter the two-storey Long Bar in the hotel arcade at Raffles in Singapore before sunset, dappled light casts a pattern over the elegantly tiled floor. Once dusk falls, the low-hanging green lights throw a warm glow over the room. With its teak bar, emerald leather stools and winding staircase, it retains its special character and is still the first port of call for many coming to the city. The reason most of them make the pilgrimage: the Singapore Sling. The pink-hued cocktail has been quenching the thirst of hotel residents and bar guests for 100 years – and this year it celebrates its centenary.
Made of gin, cherry brandy and Bénédictine with a dash of bitters and Cointreau and finished off with pineapple and lime juice and grenadine, the drink is the perfect embodiment of the warm climes of its geographical home.
Just as the Bellini, invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, is associated with the Venetian hotel that bears his name, and the Manhattan, allegedly created in the Manhattan Club in the early 1870s, epitomises chic New York, the Singapore Sling has always been synonymous with Raffles Hotel. Today, the Long Bar mixes, muddles and pours over 1,000 of the drinks a day to be enjoyed equally by men and women. This spring, DFS unveiled a daring replica of Raffles’ world-famous Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in the brand new DFS Spirits & Wines Duplex in Terminal 3 at Singapore’s Changi Airport. Among the drinks on offer is, of course, the Singapore Sling.
A Singapore Sling is the perfect embodiment of the warm climes of its geographical home
According to the hotel’s history, the Singapore Sling, widely regarded as the national drink of the country, was first created in 1915 at the Long Bar by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Following the turn of the century in colonial Singapore, the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel became the watering hole of choice for British Society. Men would drink straight gin or whisky, but women were expected to be more decorous and etiquette dictated they could not consume alcohol in public. Fruit juices and teas were their drink of choice.
The resourceful Ngiam spotted a gap in the market and decided to create a cocktail that looked like a fruit juice, but was actually infused with gin and a dash of other liqueurs. Masking it in pink made it look feminine and, together with the use of the clear alcohol, he led people into thinking it was merely a fruity punch for the ladies. With that, the Singapore Sling was born. It became a hit among society. Gallant gentlemen could buy their lady friends a real drink and the cocktail was a major draw for people to visit the hotel. Esteemed guests, from Noël Coward to Somerset Maugham, have enjoyed its tropical notes. A sling in its simplest form, according to the Savoy Cocktail Book, is made from dissolving one teaspoonful of sugar in water, adding gin and ice and topping with soda. It refers to the Singapore Sling as being a simple combination of the juice from a quarter of a lemon added to dry gin and cherry brandy, and filled up with soda water. Their Straight Sling adds the Bénédictine and bitters.
Part of the drink’s appeal is as an ideal tipple for the humid, tropical environment of Singapore. Yet other Raffles around the world have also created their own twists. Perhaps the grandest (at $16 a pop) is at the Writers’ Bar at Raffles Makati in Manila. It has been designed to look like the Singapore original, its tiled floor, polished mahogany and black-and-white movies playing in the background, giving it a nostalgic air. Here the sling is made with Tanqueray Ten, Grand Marnier, Bénédictine and fresh lemon. The use of local pineapple juice topped with Angostura and the addition of cherry blossom syrup gives the Makati Luxury Sling its unique flavour. Added panache comes in the form of 24ct gold flakes sprinkled on top.
Gallant gentlemen could buy their lady friends a real drink and the cocktail was a major draw for people to visit the hotel
Guests at the Crossroads Cocktail Bar in Raffles Dubai can enjoy their sling in the pagoda overlooking the lush garden. The drink has been created to reflect the city’s Bedouin roots – made with lemon, coriander, chilli and fig, it comes garnished with a fresh fig and pineapple. In the Long Bar of Raffles Istanbul, the Bosphorus Sling is a lighter version of the original, made tasty with pomegranate.
If these are all about quenching the thirst in hot countries with sweet offerings, there is a drier version at Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris. The hotel has one of the city’s most elegant bars and is a particular hit with the fashion crowd, so having a slightly more waistline-friendly sling here is only fitting.
This version pays homage to the original and is composed of gin, cherry liqueur, Bénédictine, Cointreau, fresh pineapple, lime juice and sparkling water. “I have reduced the sugar and the alcohol (dry gin), to satisfy those who want to consume less sugar,” says the head bartender. “It is a very famous and fashionable cocktail and I am honoured to reinterpret it.”
It is a very famous and fashionable cocktail and I am honoured to reinterpret it
Despite all these tantalising variations of the Singapore Sling, you can be sure that the original will continue to be served from 11am to midnight – or until 1.30am on Saturdays – seven days a week, in the Raffles Long Bar in Singapore. Indeed, given that it’s always midday somewhere else in the world – held by many to be the acceptable time to start drinking – there will always be a Raffles serving a Singapore Sling, whether it is with pomegranate, gold leaf or cherry blossom.