One of the things that my husband and I wanted to do while we were in Singapore was to drink a bona fide Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel. “Ugh, you may be disappointed. It’s all pre-mixed and modernized. The hotel has little of its original charm,” local food expert Christopher Tan told us. Despite Chris’s forewarning, we went to Raffles anyway, on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve.
Dressed in casual travel clothes, we didn’t want to line up for afternoon tea with the high-rollers, who were decked out in pressed dresses and high heels. Raffles is a tony, elegant establishment but surely there was a bar that evoked the era when adventurous traders hung out at the hotel, got drunk, and made deals.
The Singapore Sling was available at several Raffles bars so I stopped a cook who was pushing a speed rack through the hotel and asked him where we ought to go. “The Long Bar,” he said with confidence.
We found the bar’s sign by a staircase, with a few Japanese tourists posing for pictures in front. Interestingly, once you ascend the stairs to the actual bar entrance, there’s another sign that reveals that the current Long Bar is not the original one, that no one knows where the original Long Bar was. So maybe Chris was right…
We stepped inside and hesitated. The atmosphere was cool rattan but new and polished, somewhat characterless. The hostess was indifferent to the parade of tourists like us. From perusing the menu at another Raffles bar, we knew that the Singapore Sling cost $28 Singapore dollars ($22 US dollars). My husband and I looked at each other, and I said, “When the heck are we going to be able to do this again? Table for two please.”
We got the only table available. It was by the terrace, perfect for a wide view of the bar. While there was little actual history in that particular Long Bar, two things stood out. One, you can litter at the Long Bar. A box of peanuts is placed at each table and guests are suppose to dispose of the shells on the floor. Raffles Long Bar is probably the only place in Singapore where littering is encouraged. It felt a bit strange at first.
Second, the drink menu includes not only the $28 price but also the recipe for the Original Singapore Sling. It’s as if Raffles wanted to reward you for paying the price of admission. There’s also a recipe for a 1887 Singapore Sling champagne cocktail, but the equatorial heat called for gin. We wanted to try what Raffles was presenting as the original version, given the debate about what Raffles barman Ngiam Tong Boon actually concocted in the early 1900s.
Yours truly took a photo of the recipe. I didn’t mind being tacky and didn’t understand why no one else was. It was my souvenir.
The drinks came out and they were pretty good. They may have been pre-mixed but the bartenders may have shaken them. There was a nice amount of foam on top, the mark of a good Sling. We nursed them for an hour or so, ate peanuts, then paid the bill which was about $60 USD with taxes and tip. I put one of the coasters in my purse.
It was an experience worth having and once home, I hankered for that drink again. I asked my husband to assemble all the ingredients and make it for my birthday last Sunday. Instead of jarred maraschino cherries, we used homemade ones that I found in the back of the fridge.
Yes, that’s the Raffles coaster underneath our homemade version, which was refreshing and delicious, more vibrant than the one at Raffles. If you don’t want to fly to Singapore, here’s what you need to make one or two yourself.
Sarawak pineapple juice is suppose to make Singapore Slings super foamy. What works for me is from Trader Joe’s, which makes great pineapple juice. One small can is enough for 2 generous drinks. The other thing about the foam is you have to shake hard and long – advice from Jeff Bareilles, my friend and Manresa restaurant’s beverage director.
Instead of Cointreau, we used triple sec because we had it in the house already. There’s little involved so it’s negligible. As for the gin, we keep several, but high-octane Tanqueray balanced out the other intense liquors well. Cherry Heering and Dom Benedictine are sold at well-stocked liquor stores and markets. If you don’t want to buy the big bottles, try finding the little ones. But why not stock up and impress your friends?
Yield: 1 drink
- 30 to 35 ml gin, such as Tanqueray (use more for an edge)
- 15 ml Cherry Heering
- 7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
- 7.5 ml Cointreau or triple sec
- 120 ml unsweetened pineapple juice, such as Trader Joe’s
- 15 to 18 ml fresh lime juice (use more if juicing with a reamer)
- 5 to 10 ml grenadine (use less if you don’t like sweet)
- A forceful dash of Angostura Bitters
- Ice cubes
- Pineapple and maraschino cherry (optional, for garnish)
- Pour ingredients, from the gin down to the grenadine, into a cocktail shaker. Add the bitters. Drop in enough ice cubes to fill about 2/3 of the shaker. Cover and shake hard and fast, until the container feels cold, about 30 seconds.
- Fill a tall glass with ice, then strain the cocktail over the ice. If you want, garnish with the pineapple and cherry. Drink up.
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