What It's Like to Sip a Singapore Sling at the Cocktail's Birthplace

© Raffles Hotels & Resorts
This drink is still as delicious as in 1915.

From the first slug of Gordon's gin to the pineapple and bing-cherry garnish, it takes bartender John Blancas exactly 48 seconds to build a classic Singapore Sling.

But that he can build the nine-ingredient beverage in less than a minute should be no surprise: Blancas, a seven-year veteran behind the various bars of Raffles Hotel—where the very first Singapore Sling was made in 1915—creates 800 glasses of the drink on a slow night. On a weekend? "Maybe I'll make 1,000," he tells me during a recent visit at the hotel's Bar & Billiard Room, open while its Long Bar is remodeled.

 

The Singapore Sling's recipe remains the same since its creation by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon—a mixture of gin, cherry liqueur, pineapple juice, Cointreau, grenadine, Dom Benedictine and Angostura bitters with a fresh fruit garnish. The sweet drink was Boon's solution to a problem that might have only existed more than 100 years ago: In Singapore, men could publicly sip on straight whiskey and gin, but women weren't permitted to consume alcohol in the open. That's why Boon built a boozy beverage that looked like pink punch—and tasted like it, too, according to the hotel.

Weeks ago, leaning on the wooden bar, talking to Blancas, it's all too easy to take for granted that I'm choosing to order the Singapore Sling, and that I could just as easily, legally, toss back a bourbon, neat. It's also impossible to miss that, today, just as many men sip the fruity drink as women. There's even a new version of the drink—created in 2015 to honor the original's 100th anniversary—meant for anyone who prefers a boozier beverage. In fact, Blancas himself prefers this version. "It's stronger," he says simply.

One man, Blancas recalls, kicked back 12—yes, 12—of the original drink, each glass containing a seven percent alcohol content, and yet, he still managed to walk himself out of the bar—without falling. "He was OK," Blancas says. "He was a good drinker."

Each sip of the Singapore Sling is better than the last, with floral notes—from the Dom Benedictine—pairing perfectly with the sweet Sarawak pineapple juice that makes this version at the Raffles Hotel inarguably the best in the world. (If you make the drink at home, skip Dole and search for Sarawak pineapple juice, Blancas says.)

The drink comes at a hefty cost—$25 for the original, and $28 for the anniversary version—but also comes with as many in-the-shell peanuts as you can eat and toss on the floor, a rare pleasure in Singapore, where cleanliness is valued above all else.

When I asked Blancas what pairs best with a Singapore Sling, he sheepishly replied peanuts. "But not just because they're here," he said. "They go really well together."

For the next year, you can drink a Singapore Sling at the Bar & Billiard Room. And in 2018, the Long Bar will reopen, renovated, while the Bar & Billiard Room closes for its own remodeling. Wherever you sip, enjoy the Singapore Sling—here, in Raffles Hotel, it's really one of a kind.

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