Ordering a drink at a bar should be a pretty painless affair. You ask for a Screwdriver, you should get vodka and orange juice. Every bartender should be able to whip up a Manhattan upon request, and every guest should be able to expect a Manhattan to be more or less the same at every bar in the world.
But there are a few drinks that can be a real grab-bag when attempted at a bar. My first Mai Tai was on a booze cruise in Maui and when I returned to work I entertained guests with my deep December suntan and made my Mai Tai exactly as they did in Hawaii: cheap rum, pineapple and orange juices, artificial grenadine, and a float of dark rum. Hardly the recipe we’ve seen before.
Still, I’ve never seen a cocktail with as many variations as the Singapore Sling. Even David Embury was inspired to report, in his The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks from 1948, “Of all the recipes published for this drink, I have never seen any two that were alike.” Never mind the fact that nobody can seem to agree on the exact proportions or whether or not the drink actually contains pineapple juice. Hell, even the agreed-upon ingredients themselves are under question. Is it Cherry Heering, cherry brandy, kirschwasser or some other cherry-flavored variant?
I didn’t hop into the debate because, personally, I didn’t really care for the drink in the first place. That changed when someone uncovered a recipe that I actually liked. Now, I know I give my good friend David Wondrich a fair amount of grief. I mean, given his oft-cranky demeanor, it’s hard for me not to. We see in others what we fear in ourselves, right? But nobody can deny that the man has a nose for sniffing out drink history better than anyone, and back in 2011 he unearthed a Singapore Sling that just might be the real deal. Wondrich did the heavy lifting of combing through newspaper accounts and found a 1913 article in the Singapore Weekly Sun that surfaced the recipe you see below.
Dave’s Singapore Sling makes a lot of sense to me as a bartender, what with its ready-available ingredients and clear proportions. But it also appeals to me as a drinker—it’s strong and balanced, which is a novel concept when it comes to Singapore Sling recipes. We’ve been using this version in my bars ever since I read about it and I encourage you to eschew other recipes in favor of this version.
• 1½ oz. London dry gin
• 1 oz. Cherry Heering
• 1 oz. Benedictine
• 1 oz. lime juice
• 2 oz. soda water
• 1 dash Angostura bitters
In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, Cherry Heering, Benedictine, and lime juice with ice cubes. Shake ingredients until cold, and top with soda water. Strain over fresh ice in a chilled Collins glass and top with Angostura bitters.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
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