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A brief history of the Singapore Sling

Goh Jun Cheng

Among Singapore’s many contributions to the world of food and drink, arguably none is more iconic than the Singapore Sling cocktail.

This gin-based drink has been the city-state’s signature alcoholic offering since its creation over a century ago. The refreshing libation has evolved from a colonial hotel specialty to a globally recognized national emblem.

Origins at Raffles Hotel

The origins of the Singapore Sling date back to the early 1900s at the fashionable Raffles Hotel. Raffles’ Long Bar was a favorite watering hole for British colonists, plantation owners and wealthy travelers passing through Singapore.

According to Raffles lore, a Hainanese bartender named Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore Sling sometime between 1910 and 1915. The original recipe combined gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Benedictine, Grenadine, pineapple juice, lime juice, and Angostura bitters. The fruity cocktail was meant to be palatable to the ladies frequenting the all-male Long Bar.

Gaining Fame and Prestige

Over the 1920s and 30s, the Singapore Sling’s fame grew, as more visitors to Raffles Hotel came to know the drink. By the 1930s, the Singapore Sling was considered the national drink by locals and expats alike.

The Saké bottled version later won awards at European expositions, adding to its prestige. The combination of gin, tropical fruit juices, and liqueurs made the Sling the quintessential drink representing Singapore’s blend of European and Asian influences.

Decline and Revival

After a heyday lasting through the 1950s, the Singapore Sling’s popularity declined as other cocktails came into fashion. By the 1970s, few bars still served the drink, and when they did, the recipes diverged from the original.

In the 1980s, Raffles Hotel revived the original Sling recipe, bringing back the drink’s prominence. They trademarked the Singapore Sling name. The Singapore Sling has since seen a revival at upscale hotel bars and speakeasies across Singapore, reclaiming its status as Singapore’s national cocktail.

The Modern Singapore Sling

While Raffles Hotel keeps the original proportions, many modern variations of the Singapore Sling exist today. But certain key ingredients remain constant:

  • Gin
  • Cherry liqueur
  • Cointreau
  • Pineapple juice
  • Lime juice
  • Grenadine
  • DOM Benedictine

This tangy, fruity cocktail is often garnished with a pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry, nicely evoking Singapore’s warm climate.

An Iconic Cocktail

From its colonial origins to its modern revival, the Singapore Sling has cemented its reputation as Singapore’s national drink across the decades. Both locals and tourists continue to enjoy this refreshing, sweet cocktail as a taste of Singapore’s heritage and enduring multicultural blend.

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