The Singapore sling turns out to have a surprisingly legitimate Asian pedigree, but that doesn't save this fruity cocktail from tasting like something born in a trashy American tiki bar.
Searching for a more palatable version of this classic gin cocktail, I started at the source—the Raffles Hotel bar, where the Singapore sling supposedly was first crafted in the early 1900s. I made a surprisingly fortuitous retreat to a nearby art museum.
I was hardly alone at Raffles' Bar & Billiard Room. Dozens of 60- and 70-something tourists joined me—tells us much about the drink's demographic—all of us drawn by the promise of sipping the original sling.
The room was magnificent—soaring windows, white booze bottle-lined walls and wicker chairs, all anchored by a massive dark wood bar. The drink was not. Syrupy sweet and falsely fruity, it was like drinking from a maraschino cherry jar.
The drink's origins are found in the sling, an American cocktail—loosely defined as a spirit mixed with sugar and flavor—that dates back to at least the 1800s. Over time, Singapore's version took a particularly saccharine turn, mixing gin with pineapple juice and fruity liquors, often cherry brandy, Cointreau and Bénédictine.
Singapore's nascent cocktail scene didn't improve my sling experience as I sought better versions. One after another felt like sipping a melted all-day sucker. That is, until I visited the city-state's National Gallery, the top floor of which hosts an open-air craft cocktail bar—Smoke & Mirrors.
From behind an orb-like metallic bar overlooking Singapore's Marina Bay—a view dominated by the seemingly impossible: a massive cruise ship-shaped luxury hotel perched on top of three skyscrapers—head bartender Yugnes Susela offered me his “old and new sling,” a cleaner, simpler interpretation of the classic.
Susela does away with most of the cloying liqueurs, opting instead for just a splash of blackcurrant-flavored cassis balanced by fresh orange juice—fruity enough to echo the original, minus its sticky sweet essence.
Surprisingly, he also ditches the sling's signature gin in favor of rye, the peppery notes of which turn out to be perfect for balancing sweetness. To mimic the soda water sometimes added to early slings, he finishes with a splash of prosecco.
The result is light and refreshing, fruity, yet balanced and subtle. Finally, a “sling” in Singapore that doesn't leave you feeling like you took a side trip to Trader Vic's.