The true story of the Singapore Sling, Fear and Loathing’s most iconic guest star
World Best Bar
Sep 09, 2020
26 November 2020
Its tiki-forward style and its rise to pop culture stardom via this Americana-tinted lens might lead you to think that the drink was born stateside. But “Singapore Sling” is not just a fun, exotic-sounding name: the cocktail was actually invented in Singapore circa 1910, at the legendary Raffles Hotel.
A lot of questions and rumors still make the rounds about the Singapore Sling, and around the world the drink became so popular that dozens of different recipes exist today. But the wider consensus is that the O.G. Singapore Sling is the Raffles version created by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at the hotel’s Long Bar, whose original recipe is said to be kept well hidden in the Raffles Hotel’s safe. Some argue that it only started out as a house take on the gin sling, which was invented at least two decades earlier. Others claim that the real recipe was probably by someone else altogether and, as was often the case back in the day, the man working at a famous bar made the headlines and got credited as the inventor.
Here’s the story as we know it.
Back in early 1900s Singapore (and pretty much everywhere else, really) gender equality still had a long way to go. Even though they were allowed to frequent bars, proper morals and English manners (Singapore was a British colony at the time) meant that it was very frowned upon for ladies to be seen drinking alcohol. So while men could freely enjoy all the glasses of whisky and gin they wanted, women had to make do with teas and fruit juices.
Our trusted bartender Ngiam Tong Boon saw a business opportunity there. With its luxurious decor and lush tropical gardens, the Raffles Hotel Singapore had been the ultimate holiday spot for the rich and famous since opening in 1887, giving affluent travelers a taste of British opulence in exotic (and hot, humid) South-East Asia. The hotel’s iconic Long Bar was also big with wealthy local expats. And among this glitzy clientele were, quite logically, a great number of women.
To cater to this chic feminine crowd, Ngiam Tong Boon had the brilliant idea of creating a cocktail that would contain alcohol without anyone suspecting it at first glance: a drink that looked just like a fruit juice. He named this sweet, pink-hued concoction the ”Straits Sling”. It was an instant success. Fruity and sweet like juice, but with the neat edge of gin, the novel drink soon became all the rage among the ladies – and the gentlemen, too.
The only surviving record of the original recipe is often said to be a note written by a customer on the back of a bar chit in 1936, itself based on his bartender’s memory of how to make the drink. Whether the bartender’s recollection was fully accurate remains uncertain, but we know it was around that time that the Straits Sling was renamed Singapore Sling, and that is the recipe featured on the hotel’s menu to this day.
The Singapore Sling has since become a huge historical asset for the Raffles Hotel and the entire island city-state: today, it is unimaginable to visit without tasting the iconic drink – Singapore Airlines even serves it to all its passengers flying to and from Singapore.
Here are the ingredients as printed on the original Raffles Hotel menu and converted to ounces:
30 ml / 1 1⁄2 oz Gin
15 ml / 1⁄2 oz Cherry Brandy (today Cherry Heering is used)
120 ml / 4 oz Pineapple Juice
15 ml / 1/2 oz Lime Juice
7.5 ml / 1/4 oz Cointreau
7.5 ml / 1/4 oz Dom Benedictine
10 ml 1/3 oz Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour in an ice-filled Hurricane or highball glass. Garnish and serve.