Tuesday 22 April 2014

Singapore Sling, Raffles Hotel

So many drinks have a story behind them.  Sure, lots don't but many do.  And stories are to be celebrated.

The Singapore Sling, the city state's contribution to worldwide imbibition, is no exception.  To find out what that story is, you have to visit Raffles Hotel

Raffles (as it is generally known) is not – as the name seems to suggest – and trendy Chelsea hangout for late-teenagers but instead more of an memorial to Singapore's colonial past.  Named in honour of Sir Stamford Raffles, whose name appears around the city, and who can take credit (and blame) for much of Singapore's Nineteenth Century development, it is a towering edifice of Victorian style in a far-away land.  Today it is more of a mall (and a strangely quiet one at that) than a hotel, but peering around one can still catch a glimpse, every so often, of the colonial glory the building once embraced. 

The setting for our drinking, however, is the Long Bar.  Due to the fame of the Singapore Sling, this is the one part of the building that seems far from quiet.  In fact, unless you've booked in advance or come at a particularly antisocial time, you're likely to face a pretty hefty wait for a table – that or be shunted upstairs to the, sadly rather empty and soulless, less popular bar. 

The bar itself is a testament to the time it was built. It's decked out exactly as one would suspect it might have been when Raffles was first developed (although, in fairness, I have no idea whether this is affected or preserved chic). It's all wood panelling, tiled floors...

...and slowly flapping fans.  Once presumably cranked by some poor punkhawallah, now they are electrically operated and add a real sense of what the place may have been like (although they add nothing in the way of ventilation whatsoever). 

The floors are a sight as well.  Not something one usually picks up on, but for this: there is an old habit of serving the drinks with little bags of peanuts in shells.  As if one were sat in an old gentlemen's club, the fashion is to munch away, discarding shells on the floor.  The end result is a big mess, but again some kind of historic, colonial feel is given off.  Like it or not (and I make no comment), it gives the place an air of authenticity – even if it is (as well it may be) completely inauthentic.

But enough of this chat.  On to the drink.

The recipe for the Singapore Sling, it turns out, is hotly disputed.  It's not disputed like a martini is disputed (ie, how many parts gin/vodka to martini, but that's pretty much all the argument you get).  No, it's disputed right down to what on earth goes into it.  The recipe given by Raffles is as follows:

30ml Gin
15ml Cherry Heering
7.5ml Dom Benedictine
7.5ml Cointreau
120ml Sarawak Pineapple Juice
15ml Lime Juice
10ml Grenadine
Dash Angostura Bitters
It's a lot to cram into a cocktail, and it makes for a pretty sweet concoction.

A friend of mine rather snootily described it as the worst Singapore Sling he'd ever had.  I don't know about that - but then, this was the first Singapore Sling I'd ever had, so what do I know.

But look, here's the thing: You don’t go for the quality of the drink, as such.  Nor do you go because you love Singapore Slings (although if you do, GO).  You go because going is like dropping into La Floridita in Havana and drinking a daiquiri, or visiting Harry's Bar for a Bellini.  Sure, they may not serve the best, or even the most authentic, versions of the drink.  And certainly they're going to flog you the most expensive one you'll ever taste.  But you haven’t gone to have the best, or the truest, or the greatest, or the cheapest.  You've gone because you're visiting the place where the drink was invented, like a pilgrimage (without the religion) to try to rub off some tiny vestige of what that place was like, what the history of that drink is, how it came to pass.  And the Long Bar at Raffles can give you that.

 - GrubsterBoy -

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