“Before the cocktail was the Toddy – or the Sling – or the Julep…” David Wondrich
One of the things I enjoy most about my passion for all things gin is the history attached to it. While researching the definitive recipe for the most famous of slings – the Singapore Sling, I found myself engrossed in Wondrich’s Imbibe (where the above quote is from) and a little confused and more than ready to experiment with the many recipes available!
Origins of the ‘Sling’
The toddy or sling (I’ll refer to it as a sling from now on) is a very basic drink containing spirit, sugar, water (if needed) and a scraping of nutmeg. Confusion over the name comes (also called a Sangaree, Skin or Bombo) from regional variations and whether they are made hot or cold! Famous Bartender Jerry Thomas came up with a simple rule that nutmeg was the difference between the two, but even that was refuted. In fact you can make a cold toddy and a hot sling!
Gin Slings (c.1800) were an American invention and were popular until the mid-19th century when the Cocktail era nudged them out of fashion. This Jerry Thomas recipe would probably have been made with ‘Holland’ gin (genever), but I used Old Tom gin and reduced the sugar accordingly.
Ingredients for a Gin Sling (Jerry Thomas)
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
1 small lump of ice
Dissolve the sugar and water before adding the gin. Stir with ice.
The English got their hands on the traditional sling and added fruit juice and liqueurs to create a longer, fruitier drink that Wondrich says became more of a punch than a sling. By the end of the 18th Century it arrived in Singapore where the most famous sling of all was created.
Stories differ about the exact origin of the Singapore Sling. Raffles Hotel attributes the drink to Ngiam Tong Boom, a bartender at the hotel, who is said to have created it around 1915, but it seems the drink was universal in Singapore from the late 1800s according to Wondrich’s research.
Ingredients for a Singapore Sling
30ml Old Tom gin
30ml of DOM Benedictine
30ml Herring Cherry Liqueur
30ml freshly squeezed lime juice
A few dashes of Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients together in an ice-filled Collins glass and top up with soda water.
The Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling
In a wonderful historical connection, Sam Galsworthy, one of the founder’s of Sipsmith Gin, is a direct descendent of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore and after whom the hotel is named. In a unique collaboration between Sipsmith and Raffles, a special gin was created to mark the centenary of the Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling, and lucky me, I got to try some!
Raffles 1915 gin contains all the signature Sipsmith botanicals, but incorporates spices and ingredients from the region, these being pomelo, lemongrass, jasmine, nutmeg, mace and clove. The result is a beautiful spiced gin, the perfect base for a Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling!
Ingredients for The Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling
15ml Herrings Cherry liqueur
7.5ml DOM Benedictine
Dash of Angostura bitters
120ml Pineapple juice
Shake well and strain into a tall glass filled with ice.
The evolution of drinks is fascinating – look at how different these drinks are. If you are interested in the history of cocktails and their evolution. I can’t recommend Imbibe enough. You could also check out Emma Stokes’ Periodic Table of Cocktails which shows how they relate to each other.
So, which sling do I prefer? I’ll let you guess!