Leslie Danker takes a look at the 100-year history of the Singapore Sling

Leslie Danker takes a look at the 100-year history of the Singapore Sling

Centenary celebrations

Text: Leslie Danker

Image: Courtesy of Raffles Singapore

Steeped in history, the legendary drink has shaken up the past of the Raffles Singapore in more ways than one

In my 43 years of service as Raffles Singapore's Resident Historian, I've received many questions regarding the long and illustrious history of the Singapore Sling. Hotel guests, curious tourists, and even locals often grill me with such questions as "How did it come about?", "Who created it?" and "Why is it called the Singapore Sling?".

Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon

The story of the birth of this 100-year-old cocktail begins with its creator, Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon. No one really knows how he came to work at the hotel but in 1915, Mr. Ngiam created what is now widely cited as our national cocktail — the Singapore Sling.

During that golden era, Raffles Singapore was the meeting place for many young British society types. It was a place to be seen. Men would gather under the cast iron verandah at the front of the hotel and nurse glasses of gin and whisky. As British etiquette of that time frowned upon women for drinking alcoholic beverages in public, the ladies had to sip on tea and fruit juices instead.

The Long Bar at Raffles Singapore

Mr. Ngiam observed this and saw an opportunity to create something special for his female guests. He mixed gin with cherry brandy, Dom Benedictine, Cointreau, pineapple and lime juices along with a dash of Angostura bitters and grenadine to give the cocktail a rosy hue. This resulted in a concoction that could easily pass off for fruit punch, thus masking it as a socially acceptable drink for the ladies. It wasn't long before orders for the Singapore Sling began to grow. A hundred years on, the same recipe is being used at the Long Bar.

Mr Ngiam was a devoted family man who encouraged many of his Hainanese clan members to work at Raffles Singapore. At one point, the Long Bar was practically managed by the Ngiams. One night, I went into the bar to look for one of them. I remember calling out "Ngiam" and all the bartenders had their hands up.

Singapore Sling: the Ngiam family at Long Bar

Of the many people who have visited and tasted the cocktail, one particular guest stands out. An Australian man dropped by the bar and did what many tourists do — order a Singapore Sling. But what began as one Singapore Sling ended up being eight orders of the tipple. Towards the end, he declared it the best cocktail he drank in years. The bar staff and I were surprised that he could still leave standing upright. Other famous guests who have enjoyed the iconic drink include singer Sir Cliff Richard and actor Bruce Boxleitner.

I'm very fond of the Singapore Sling myself. It has remained a constant offering throughout my tenure at Raffles Singapore and its popularity has not waned. More than just a cocktail, it's a drink that's steeped in history and rich with stories. Sipping a Singapore Sling at Long Bar will briefly transport you back in time. We welcome all to step into Raffles Singapore to experience an iconic, historic moment. 

The Singapore Sling is available at the Long Bar, Raffles Singapore