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Tiki Central Forums » » Tiki Drinks and Food » » Singapore Sling Article
Singapore Sling Article
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Apr 06, 2006
Posts: 62
From: London, England
Posted: 2007-02-14 1:14 pm   Permalink


The Gin sling of the Raffles Hotel.

By George Sinclair

The Singapore Sling is often touted as a pre-Tiki, Tiki-style drink, due to its use of lime juice, pineapple juice, and other ingredients. The Singapore Sling sold across the bar at the Raffles Hotel, is served from pre-mixed jugs, much to the horror of cocktail aficionados who make the pilgrimage to the sacred Long Bar, purported hang-out for some icons as Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad (author of "Heart of Darkness"), and Noel Coward.

The menu of the Long Bar reads like so: "The Singapore Sling was created at Raffles Hotel at the turn-of-the-century by Hainanese-Chinese bartender, Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon." And it continues: "In the Hotel's museum, visitors may view the safe in which Mr. Ngiam locked away his precious recipe books, as well as the Sling recipe hastily jotted on a bar-chit in 1936 by a visitor to the Hotel who asked the waiter for it. Originally, the Singapore Sling was meant as a woman's drink, hence the attractive pink colour. Today, it is very definitely a drink enjoyed by all, without which any visit to Raffles Hotel is incomplete."

The recipe for the Singapore Sling is also included on the menu:

30ml Gin
15 ml Cherry Brandy
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
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry

However, according to pre-eminent cocktail historian Ted Haigh, author of "Vintage Cocktails and Spirits" and a founder member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, "Raffles no longer has the original recipe, a fact recorded by the hotel biographer and by the Communications Department of Raffles Hotel."

So, if the Raffles Hotel is not selling Singapore Slings made to the original recipe, then what are they selling and where did their current recipe originate from? The earliest references that I have been able to find for the pineapple-based Singapore Sling are from 1977. All the 1977 references feature the nephew of Ngiam Tong Boon, and have him telling the story of how his uncle invented the Singapore Sling; There is never any evidence, and the authors of the articles seem to always take Ngiam Tong Boon's nephew at his word:

Lethbridge Herald, 22nd April 1977.

"My uncle taught me how to make this [the Singapore Sling], and I have taught my nephews and my children," said Ngiam Dee Suan, mixing the Singapore Sling from gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau and a mixture of fruit juices. His back was turned to Raffles's "long bar" where Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward, among others, sipped the delectable punch. It's never occured to Ngiam that it might not be a part of his tradition - only members of his family have worked at the long bar since his uncle Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Sling there in 1915."

Other than Ngiam Dee Saun's claims for his Uncles creation of the Singapore Sling there is no other proof connecting Ngiam Tong Boon with the pineapple punch, now claimed to be "The" Singapore Sling.

At the beginning of the 1970s the Raffles Hotel fell on hard times, it was during this period of turmoil that an Italian by the name of Roberto Pregarz was appointed Manager of the establishment. It was Pregarz's duty to regain the Raffles Hotel's former glory, and this he did: ""What I did was simply go back into the past and try to recapture all the good features and services which made the Raffles famous.", Pregarz is quoted as saying in the pages of the Syracuse Herald Journal, 20th November 1977. The most telling comment, coming from the same Syracuse Newspaper goes as follows:

"He [Pregarz] researched the original recipe for the Singapore Sling (gin, cherry brandy and sometimes Benedictine) and dug out old menus from famous occasions."

As you see the Singapore Sling recipe was lost, and Pregarz looked for the original recipe; And one would assume that Pregarz must have asked some of the people working at the Raffles Hotel how exactly a Singapore Sling was meant to be made. Pregarz may have spoken to Ngiam Tong Boon's nephew, and got the recipe that is today called a Raffle's Singapore Sling.

Before the confusion of the 1970s, there were many Singapore Sling recipes cited in newspapers and cocktail books, which has lead to some assuming that it is impossible to say what the original Singapore Sling actually was. However, if you look at all the references to the Singapore Sling and then divide them into two camps; those Slings actually drunk at the Raffles Hotel, and those Slings simply drunk in the city of Singapore, it is then that you get a clearer picture, and a definitive answer.

It may come as a surprise but the Singapore Sling made at the Raffle Hotel, prior to the 1970s, was not actually referred to as the Singapore Sling; Here are some quotes:

The Charleston Gazette, 16th May 1966.

"AT THE FAMOUS old Raffles Hotel, It seems absolutely indecent not to stand up when they serve you your Singapore Sling (known here, by the way, simply as a gin sling) and shout "God save the queen" before downing your tot and then throwing the glass against the wall."

Waterloo Daily Courier, 3rd July 1949.

"Dream, for example of a lovely courtyard in old Singapore, Malay attendants, white dinner jackets, lovely inscrutable ladies, coconut palms and the Hotel Raffles Gin Sling. This boon to mankind is said to consist of proper applications of dry gin, cherry brandy and Benedictine, shaken for a moment, and stirred in a bar glass, ice-chilled, filled to taste with chilled club soda and garnished with a spiral peel of a green lime."

Here we have a recipe for the Hotel Raffles Gin Sling, and it matches perfectly with the Singapore Sling recipe given by Charles Baker in his 1939 book, The Gentleman's Companion:

"The original formula is 1/3 each of dry gin, cherry brandy and Benedictine; shake it for a moment, or stir in in a barglass, with 2 fairly large lumps of ice to chill. Turn into a small 10 oz highball glass with one lump of ice left in and fill up to individual taste with chilled club soda. Garnish with the spiral peel of 1 green lime. In other ports in the Orient drinkers often use C & C ginger ale instead of soda, or even stone bottle ginger beer."

Another contemporary newspaper journalist lists the exact recipe from the Raffles Hotel:

Eureka Humboldt Standard, 11th May 1966.

"And while we're in that neck of the woods, here is the Singapore Sling - from the noted Raffles Hotel. This is served ornamented with a spirally cut peel of lime, such as we used to enjoy in our childhood served in a glass of gingerale and called a "Horse's Neck," You need the finest, dryest gin you can obtain to make it perfectly. Also, fine cherry brandy and then Benedictine. At Raffles' they use equal parts, but we recommend increasing the percentage of gin to your own taste. Shake the mixture with a few ice cubes, then strain into a chilled highball glass with 1 ice cube - fill as far as you wish with chilled club soda, and decorate with the long peel."

In the February 15th 1939 edition of the Oakland Tribune, a certain Vic Bergeron ran an advert for the benefit of the residents of Oakland, and the visitors to the exposition being held at that time in the city; The restaurant was "Trader Vics", and the advert listed, amongst other international drinks, a "Raffles Bar Sling, from Singapore".

Note: The same advert also listed a "Mojito, from Habana"

Trader Vic was a man who liked to get his hands on original recipes, and would travel far and wide to get them. The recipe for the Raffles Bar/ Hotel Sling is given in his Trader Vic Bartender's Guide, 1948:

Raffles Hotel Sling

1 oz. Dry Gin.
1 oz. Cherry Brandy.
1 oz. Benedictine.

Shake w/cracked ice, strain into glass containing several lumps of ice; fill with chilled club soda and garnish with lime peel spiral.

After listing the Raffles Hotel Sling, Vic then goes on to list two different recipes for drinks actually named as Singapore Slings. And there we have it, the Raffles Hotel version of the Singapore Sling was not actually known by that name, and all the sources which actually originate from the Raffles Hotel do not differ in the recipes that they give. The other drinks called by the name Singapore Sling, but being from the city of Singapore, rather than the Raffles Hotel itself, vary a great deal, some recipes are just a Tom Collins made red with cherry brandy, and others are just more complicated versions of that.

I can not finish this article without mentioning the 1922 recipe from Robert Vermiere's Cocktails and How to Mix Them, as it is often cited as the earliest known Singapore Sling recipe, even though it doesn't say that the recipe comes directly from the Raffles' Hotel, and the recipe is titled "Straits Sling". The drink is referred to as a "well-known Singapore drink", but it could have just been another of the multitude of (City of) Singapore Slings.

Note that the recipe contains half a gill of gin, which is 71 millilitres.

"thoroughly iced and shaken, contains:"

2 dashes of Orange Bitters,
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters,
The juice of half a lemon
1/8 gill of Bénédictine.
1/8 gill of Dry Cherry Brandy
1/2 gill of Gin.

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

Conclusion: The current Singapore Sling served at the Raffles is a completely different drink to that originally associated with the hotel in its heyday. The Raffles Hotel Gin Sling did not contain any citrus juice, and it is not known who created it or when it was created.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 23, 2006
Posts: 335
From: Houston, Texas
Posted: 2007-02-14 11:53 pm   Permalink

Great research!

As a frequent visitor to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, I could have sworn that up in the hotel's history museum...that there are several references to a "Gin Sling" on a few artifacts.

So could it be possible that the hotel might have actually served both drinks? One the "Gin Sling" (which several reporters obviously noted and might have favored) and another drink entirely...the "Singapore Sling?"

Just a thought.

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