When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Maialino, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.
Today: A celebration of the golden age of cocktails, in liquid form, that's bound to make the rest of your summer better.
The Raffles Hotel in Singapore, circa the early 20th century, is evocative of everything romantic in cocktail culture: Hemmingway and Maugham in wrinkled linen arguing over whether or not the last tiger in Singapore was truly shot under Raffle’s pool table; women in evening gowns waltzing on the North Bridge. And bartender Ngiam Tong Boon presiding over the famed Long Bar in an immaculate white jacket, shaking up the only cure for constant equatorial humidity: the Singapore Sling.
Like all drinks that became very famous very fast, the origins of the sling are difficult to pinpoint. Cocktail historian David Wondrich cites 1897 as the first date a sling was mentioned in a Singapore newspaper, 18 years before Ngiam was purported to mix his own version. The sling of the time was most likely a simple combination of spirit, water, citrus, sugar, and bitters, but by the time Prohibition started there were already a myriad of variations. The one that eventually rose to the top was the version served at Raffles, with gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, bitters, and citrus.
More: Unfamiliar with bitters? Learn all about them.
Unfortunately, if you go to the Long Bar now you’ll get a Singapore Sling made out of a mix served in a souvenir glass, with a dubious recipe printed on the coaster -- a practice that reminds me of another famous cocktail now relegated to a shadow of its former self. But thankfully Ted Haigh has put together a fair imitation of what that sling may have been like; his version, slightly adapted, is my go-to.
The Singapore Sling was a kind of proto-Tiki drink, and much like its offspring, it has a lengthy list of ingredients. But if you take the time to assemble what you need, you'll be rewarded with an herbal, sweet-tart, and refreshing cooler with a seductive red color. Enjoy one on those sultry summer nights when the humidity is so high that even sunset brings no relief. Linen pants and literati optional, but highly recommended.
2 ounce London Dry gin
2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce Cherry Heering
2 teaspoon (1/3 ounce) Cointreau
2 teaspoon (1/3 ounce) Bénédictine
1/4 ounce of homemade grenadine
2 to 4 dashes of Angostura bitters, to taste
Photos by James Ransom