The island and the drink follow one another like “horse” and “carriage”, “love”, and “marriage” in the authoritative Oxford Dictionary of English. Of the more than 350,000 words and phrases in the dictionary, only three bear the name of Singapore: “Singapore”, “Singaporean”, and “Singapore sling”.
However, “Singaporean” appears in smaller print under “Singapore” as its derivative. The next word, given the same prominence as “Singapore”, is “Singapore sling”: “a cocktail made from gin and brandy”, explains the dictionary.
Made for the ladies
How did clean, straight-arrow Singapore lend its name to a drink that pretended not to be a drink? A non-alcoholic drink, that is. For there’s no getting away from facts. The Singapore Sling was made to look like fruit juice. Put it down to its colonial vintage. It was created in the colonial era, probably in the 1910s, when the ladies, the memsahibs particularly, couldn’t be seen drinking in public.
The Raffles Hotel bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the cocktail in 1915, says the hotel website. It says:
“The (hotel’s) Long Bar was the watering hole. It was common to see gentlemen nursing glasses of gin or whisky. Unfortunately for the ladies, etiquette dictated that they could not consume alcohol in public. So, for modesty’s sake, teas and fruit juices were their beverages of choice.
“Ever insightful, Ngiam thus saw a niche in the market and decided to create a cocktail that looks like plain fruit juice but is actually infused with gin and liqueurs. The clever bartender made the beverage pink to give it a feminine flair which, together with the use of clear alcohol, led people to think it was a socially acceptable drink for women. With that, the Singapore Sling was born. Needless to say, it became an instant hit.”
Actually, it wasn’t called the Singapore Sling, then. More likely, it was called a “gin sling”.
Tourist favourite since colonial days
The Straits Times reported on 27 September 1936:
“Singapore is famous for its gin sling — especially the Raffles formula. From all over the world come inquiries for the recipe of this sling.
“Of course, people in other parts of the world have heard of the Naval Base as well, but when they visit Singapore, the first thing they do is to ask for a Singapore gin sling.
There used to be a fable that the Raffles formula was a closely guarded secret, but that is pure mythological nonsense. The recipe is given unhesitatingly to overseas enthusiasts who write for it.
The gin sling is undoubtedly the best-known drink here, but actually, it is not as popular as the ‘stengah’ (made from equal measures of whisky and soda served over ice).”
Singapore Sling in Crazy Rich Asians
The Singapore Sling’s tourist appeal continues to this day, as noted by Kevin Kwan in his bestseller Crazy Rich Asians.
In the novel’s last chapter, the American heroine Rachel Chu and her mother, Kerry, approach her Singaporean friend, Peik Lin, who is standing behind the bar, and Kerry asks her, “Can you make me a Singapore Sling?”
Peik Lin gives a slightly embarrassed smile and says, “Um, I don’t know how to make that – I’ve never actually had one.”
“What? Isn’t it the most popular drink here?” Kerry asks in surprise.
“Well, I guess if you’re a tourist,” replies Peik Lin.
“I’m a tourist!” responds Kerry.
So, Rachel’s boyfriend, Nick Young, ends up taking them in his car to the Marina Bay Sands’ SkyBar, where they drink cocktails. “Well, I have to admit this Singapore Sling is better than I imagined,” says Peik Lin, taking another sip of her frothy crimson drink.
Singapore Sling: Ingredients and Preparation of a Classic Contemporary Cocktail
The Singapore Sling is classified by the International Bartenders Association (IBA) as an IBA official cocktail. The association recognises IBA official cocktails as the most requested recipe.
Here’s the IBA recipe for the Singapore Sling:
30 ml gin
15 ml cherry liqueur
7.5 ml Cointreau
7.5 ml DOM Bénédictine
120 ml fresh pineapple juice
15 ml fresh lime juice
10 ml Grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well—strain into a Hurricane glass.
Garnish with pineapple and maraschino cherry.
The Singapore Sling is a Contemporary Classic, according to the IBA. Contemporary Classics are cocktails popular all over the world as a symbol of class and prestige drinking, it says. Other Contemporary Classics include Bloody Mary, Mojito, Pina Colada, Mint Julep, Cosmopolitan, Mai-Tai and Mimosa. For more information, visit the IBA website.