Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling
The Juice of 1/4 Lemon,
1/4 Dry Gin.
1/2 Cherry Brandy.
Shake well and strain into medium size glass, and fill with soda water. Add 1 lump of ice.

A lot of people get hung up on the Singapore Sling.

A famous drink from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, so many people have written about it over the years, that I’m not sure there is anything to say.

The original recipe was secret and somehow lost. Eventually it was claimed found again by an ancestor of the barman who invented it, blah blah blah… Sounds like a made up story to me.

The drink the Raffles Hotel now serves after re-discovering the recipe is, reportedly, to most modern tastes, far too sweet and rather pink looking and artificial tasting.

So I think the response that people get, when they come across the Savoy recipe above is, “Uh, nope, I’m not going to make that, it sounds disgustingly sweet.” Well, right, that’s true, this does sound rather ridiculously sweet, and I’ve made it before to that exact spec, and I’m not doing it again. Tastes like vaguely medicinal fizzy cherry soda.

First off, there’s a red herring. Ahem. Or perhaps a Cherry Heering. Hoho.

Anyway, when confronted with this recipe, a lot of people grasp on to the idea of, “Cherry Brandy,” thinking perhaps that some confused editor, or author, meant to write, “Kirsch,” or “Cherry Eau-de-Vie” instead of Cherry Brandy, which is universally the cocktail recipe shorthand for Cherry Liqueur. And by subbing in Kirsch, they’ll be able to rescue the recipe from its syrupy origins.

One mixologist, in particular, Robert Vermeire, muddied the water by calling for, “Dry Cherry Brandy,” in his book, “Cocktails: How to Mix Them” (originally published 1922).

Straits Sling

The well-known Singapore drink, thoroughly iced and shaken, contains:

2 dashes Orange Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
The juice of half a lemon
1/8 Gill of Benedictine
1/8 Gill of Dry Cherry Brandy
1/2 Gill of Gin

Pour into a tumbler and fill up with cold soda water.

“O ho!” you say, “I have an excuse to use Kirsch in this recipe! This might not be so sweet after all!”

Well, the bad news is, lots of liqueurs are called “Dry”, which does not mean they are Eau-de-Vies. Triple SEC springs immediately to mind. In fact, speaking of Orange Liqueurs, the Bols Company, to this very day, calls their Orange Curacao, “Dry Orange Curacao,” in Europe. Oh, hm, a Dutch Liqueur Company, a recipe in Singapore at a Colonial hotel, what are the chances, Bols might have marketed its Cherry Liqueur in the past as “Dry Cherry Brandy”?

I will also add, Mr. Robert Vermeire, elsewhere in his book actually calls specifically for “Kirsch” when he means Cherry Eau-de-Vie, not “Dry Cherry Brandy”, for example, in the recipe for the “Pollchinelle or Cassis-Kirsch” in the “French Aperitifs” section of his book.

(Hat Tip to Mr. David Wondrich, for reminding me about Bols’ use of the word “Dry” in their liqueur line. You’d think I would remember, having used their Dry Orange Curacao about a million times. Duh. I believe Mr. Wondrich should have a far more well written and informative article on the subject of Slings coming out some time soon.)

And, uh, maybe you didn’t notice, but if you leave out the Cherry Liqueur entirely, this recipe has no sweetener at all, basically a Dry Gin and Kirsch highball with a dash of lemon. You give that a try and let me know what you think. I’ve have tried that version, and while perhaps nominally more appealing than the Fizzy Cherry Soda version, it’s not one of those drinks that jumps out as something that would have mass appeal, nor that I am going to make again.

Anyway, a secret recipe and a questionable reinvention means, well, it means, everyone will make up their own version.

Things that are indisputable: It has Gin, it has Citrus, and it has “Cherry Brandy”, (however you interpret that,) and it is served in a tall glass.

Erik Adkins put the Singapore Sling on the Slanted Door menu a while ago, and it has been a staple of that restaurant’s cocktail menu ever since. He based his recipe on one he got from the Rainbow Room in New York City, which, it turns out, was adapted by Dale DeGroff from something he was faxed by the Raffles Hotel.

I had some business to take care of with Jennifer Colliau, in preparation for the next Savoy Night, so I figured, what better place to stop for a Singapore Sling? I mean, aside from the Rainbow Room or Raffles Hotel.

Slanted Door Singapore Sling
1 1/2 oz Dry Gin
1 oz Sling Business*
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
2 Dash Angostura bitters

Shake and pour into a Delmonico glass. Garnish with a cherry on a lime raft.

*Sling Business is a mixture of 1/2 Cherry Heering, 1/4 Benedictine, and 1/4 Cointreau. If mixing this recipe for yourself it would be, 1/2 oz Heering, 1/4 oz Benedictine, and 1/4 oz Cointreau per drink.

Among other things that The Slanted Door might have in advantage over the Rainbow Room or Raffles Hotel, is that they are currently experimenting with using fresh squeezed pineapple juice. This not only tastes fantastic in a Singapore Sling, way better than canned, but you can also see gives the drink a great, light foam at the top.

What do I think is the right recipe?

Honestly, I don’t know. The pineapple version served by the Slanted Door is a great drink. Even at its most basic, the Singapore Sling is a Tom Collins sweetened with Cherry Heering, which isn’t really bad, as long as you take a generous hand with the citrus.

The moral of the story, if there is one? If you keep the recipe for your cocktail secret, there’s a chance that everyone will make it wrong. FOREVER. And even if the right recipe eventually turns up, some people may never believe it.

It’s hard enough for most people to make cocktail recipes the way their creators intended, even if the recipe is known.

Heck, I’m still trying to get that version of the Last Word I saw with Midori instead of Green Chartreuse out of my mind…

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the drinks in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, the, uh, Sauterne Cup.

4 thoughts on “Singapore Sling

  1. I wonder how Chris Yeo does it at Staits, the peninsula/SF Singaporean restaurant group. Granted, the SF location is in a mall, but the Chronicle review of their Palo Alto location said it was a house speciality.

  2. Great write-up, Erik, and exactly right. I look forward to giving the Slanted Door version a try. I have had the privilege of having a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Long Bar and, although it was well before I was interested in serious cocktails, it still seemed overly sweet and not that great. Kind of sad, really, but it was an important drinking experience nonetheless.

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