After observing a friend confidently order a Singapore Sling from a run-of-the-mill bar, I thought that this rouge concoction was de rigueur, no stranger than asking for a Manhattan or vodka gimlet. “Singapore Sling” sounds like a drink you might order while on shore leave: Quick, dirty and perfect for a balmy tropical night.

The drink dates back to around 1910 at the Raffles Hotel and (according to the hotel’s website), the colonial-style establishment is the place where the last indigenous tiger of Singapore was allegedly shot to death (yes, in the hotel, by some accounts). There, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the drink (which was called a Singapore Strait at the time). It’s unclear whether the Singapore Sling is at all related to the tiger’s extinction, but it bears mentioning that a true sling is a bloody sunset color.

The drink fell out of popularity and the original recipe was lost; what we do have is an impossibly complicated mixture (recalled by a former Raffles patron) that calls for ingredients that few watering holes carry.

In its current incarnation, the Singapore Sling is the complimentary drink on Singapore Airlines for all passengers, coach to first class.

Billy O’s

The bartender didn’t flinch when I ordered my cocktail of choice, although she did scramble around the bar to gather the appropriate materials (and to open a new bottle of brandy). I began to suspect that the Sling was labor-intensive.

Billy O’s mixture included Club soda and a generous heaping of grenadine. It was in all honesty the light version, with brandy and gin, but no cognac. Still, it was reminiscent of the Slings I’ve had in the past and I savored it as I took advantage of Billy O’s free wireless access.

San Souci

The lovely Marlia was on duty to field my request, and offered me my first hint that the Singapore Sling is a little beyond the pale of most drinking establishments. Making the perfect Sling became a collaborative effort, with a Sans Souci regular calling out the ingredients to Marlia from a bar handbook, before pausing to read about the cocktail’s venerated, if obscure, history.

Trying to get the cocktail up to snuff became a bonding experience for all present. Lacking two specific ingredients, Marlia then became committed to fixing a quasi-Sling, and we all helped her eyeball the color.

I have discovered that few bars carry cherry brandy, and even fewer have Heering Cherry Liquer on hand. Marlia was creative, taking what she termed the “mojito approach” by crushing maraschino cherries and mixing them with sugar and the requisite liquors. She added a splash of orange juice for flourish, making it more of the “Tequila Sunrise” school, but close enough. The result was a strong but fruity drink, with enough cherry representation to leave me satisfied.

I now know that it is a rare bartender who makes a true Singapore Sling, but some are more forthcoming about this fact than others. To be fair, I will probably never make a true Sling. (Unless I happen to find myself in possession of a bottle of Angostura bitters, but at the moment my supply has run out).

Euphoric though the perfect Singapore Sling might be, I have to conclude that once the basic elements are in place – gin, brandy and some cherry representation – you can’t go wrong.

The Standard Singapore Sling

30ml gin
15ml Heering Cherry Liqueur
7.5ml D.O.M Benedictine (French Cognac)
7.5ml Cointreau
120ml Pineapple juice
15ml fresh lime juice
10ml grenadine
dash of Angostura bitters

Top off with a maraschino cherry or twelve, a pineapple chunk and an orange slice. (This recipe is from www.wikipedia.com.)