The Singapore sling is a classic gin-based cocktail that every cocktail connoisseur needs to taste. The story goes that it was developed by Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore sometime around 1915. It is a smooth, slow, and semi-sweet cocktail with a complex flavor that has remained a favorite for over 100 years.
The problem with the Singapore sling is that few people can agree on the recipe. You'll find many references to the "original" Raffles recipe and few of them are the same. The disparities seem to have begun as early as the drink's first decade and they've only grown over the years. It is really up to each drinker to decide which version of this famous cocktail they prefer most.
This recipe is one of the newer variations. Others include anything from pineapple to grenadine or liqueurs like Cointreau. We're going to explore a few of those options, including recipes shared by today's top cocktail historians. No matter how you end up taking your Singapore sling, it is a fascinating cocktail that is well worth your time to explore.
- Pour the gin, Benedictine, lime juice, and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes.
- Shake well.
- Strain into a highball glass over fresh ice.
- Pour in the club soda.
- Float the cherry brandy on top by pouring it over the back of a bar spoon.
- Garnish with the lemon slice and cherry.
Tip: While floating the cherry brandy on top of the drink is fun, it's not necessary and not likely a method used in the sling's early days.
Feel free to add that to the shaker as well.
The "Original" Singapore Sling?
In 2015, the Raffles Hotel Singapore celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Singapore sling. It is an iconic cocktail and the showpiece of the hotel's Long Bar to this day.
The problem really is that Ngiam Tom Boon's original recipe is under great dispute. According to Raffles, however, his intent was clear: to produce a cocktail that looked like juice and had a rosy color that would appeal to women. It was, as the hotel notes, "a socially acceptable punch for the ladies."
Further, Raffles notes that the Singapore Sling is a gin cocktail and its primary ingredient is pineapple (something lacking in the modern recipe above). It also includes grenadine, lime juice, Benedictine, and—for the "pretty pink hue"—cherry brandy and Cointreau. Note how they don't mention grenadine's contribution to the color, but that's a technicality (which these sling recipes are filled with).
That really doesn't help us with the "original" recipe, so we turn instead to cocktail historians. In the book, "Imbibe!," David Wondrich tells a completely different story. He points out that the Singapore sling may actually have been around since 1897 or so. It was a popular hangover cure and general cure-all for anything that ails you. This clearly contradicts Raffles' historical claims.
The cocktail sleuth and author dug up a reference to the recipe written down from the Singapore Cricket Club. This version pours 1 ounce each cherry brandy, gin, Benedictine, and lime juice.
Wondrich recommends stirring it with ice, then finishing it off with 1 to 2 ounces of sparkling water and Angostura bitters. The gin? Go with a traditional London dry or Old Tom. The suggested garnish is a lime twist.
Did you notice the lack of pineapple juice? This was the "key" ingredient in Raffles' recipe, so that may have been how Ngiam "improved" on a popular drink found throughout Singapore at the time.
Popular Singapore Sling Variations
To further open up your Singapore Sling possibilities, Wondrich also notes that you can play around with that formula. For instance, he dug up a few recipes from the 1930s that used the red wine claret or sloe gin to give the sling its signature color. When doing this, he recommends some adjustments: cutting back on the lime and Benedictine and adding more gin.
We can then turn to another trusted source, Gary "Gaz" Regan and his book, "The Joy of Mixology," which is another essential for a bartender's library. He shares two recipes and they also represent the spectrum of possible Singapore Slings.
In Regan's Singapore Sling No. 2 recipe, pineapple juice is used at a full 2-ounce pour, equaling that of Beefeater gin. It also adds 1/2 ounce each Cherry Heering and triple sec with 1/4 ounce Benedictine and 3/4 ounce lime juice. It's topped with Angostura bitters and club soda. This is apparently a recipe found on a Raffles coaster, though it lacked the measurements so experienced bartenders had to wing it to come up with these recommendations.
The Singapore Sling No. 1 in Regan's book is completely different and pineapple is excluded. Instead, it uses 2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce each Benedictine and kirsch, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, and both orange and Angostura bitters. As with most slings, it is topped with club soda.
Which Sling Recipe Is for You?
Quite honestly, the five Singapore Sling recipes shared here do not even begin to reflect the many variations you can find. There are too many to count and they rarely agree.
To make matters worse, many drinkers try to replicate the look of the sling they were served at Raffles and inundate it with too much red (typically grenadine), which can easily make the drink too sweet. Keep in mind that the appearance of any cocktail is not as important as the taste and the color may be off for any number of reasons. For instance, you may be using the colorless kirsch while the bar is using Cherry Heering or a cherry brandy with a similar deep red.
The goal is to find a Singapore sling that you enjoy. Chasing the original recipe or going for the "right color" is going to end in heartache and a good-sized headache. Some of these recipes have a drier profile while others are sweeter, and you can always make your own adjustments. Why not? Everyone else did!
The good news is that most Singapore sling recipes agree, for the most part, on similar ingredients. That means you can save a little money and stock your bar with the essentials while playing around with these recipes until you find your ideal formula. Write it down so you can duplicate it later, then sit back and enjoy this iconic cocktail.