I knew that my time would eventually come, and turning 50 this summer seemed like the right context for comfortably and confidently ordering my first Singapore Sling.
The venue for this milestone moment was Martin Drug Co., a groovy cocktail lounge occupying the same downtown space once home to Tucson’s first pharmacy.
It was almost as if I was being drawn to this historic setting by spirits from the past, working together to accelerate my surrender to the inevitable.
“I think I’ll have a Singapore Sling” rolled off my tongue, surprisingly yet effortlessly, as the shaking began behind the bar.
While classic cocktails have made most of the recent noise on bar menus across town, I’ve been struck by the relative silence of the Singapore Sling. It’s just not easy to find, but some local mixologists are working hard to reinstate its relevance.
“This is a delicious and refreshing drink that was literally born to beat the heat,” said Rachel D’Acquisto, general manager of Martin Drug Co., 300 E. Congress Street.
D’Acquisto told me the Singapore Sling came into existence at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel in the early 1900s. The cocktail was designed to give foreign travelers a refuge from the island’s heat and humidity, cooling them down with flavors of tropical fruit and botanicals. Her version, which she calls “pleasantly punchy,” consists of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Heering Cherry Liqueur, Dom Benedictine Liqueur, Angostura Bitters, Grenadine, dry orange liqueur, lime juice and pineapple juice.
She shared that her secret is in the shaking, an aggressive exercise that subsequently yields a sweet pineapple foam which rises to the top of the glass when the cocktail cascades from the shaker. The drink is garnished with Luxardo cherries, a cocktail umbrella and a pineapple leaf, with a plastic blue donkey hanging from the rim.
“Classic cocktails can run the risk of being a bit stuffy, so we add our own elements of fun and flair, in this drink and in everything we do,” she said.
Meanwhile, in the “Tiki” section of the five-page cocktail menu at 47 Scott and Scott & Co., the Singapore Sling is bringing back the early days of the 20th century in style.
“I think one of the reasons that the Singapore Sling was forgotten over recent years is that this classic Tiki drink doesn’t necessarily fit the narrative of the style,” said Travis Reese, owner of 47 Scott and Scott & Co., 47 N. Scott Avenue.“When we think Tiki, we think Hawaii and the Caribbean, not Singapore, per se, and this made the Sling go beyond exotic into obscurity.”
Reese’s variation on the theme is helping to drive a new dialogue on the beverage, with a French version of a London Dry style of gin called Citadelle, Dom Benedictine Liqueur, lime juice, Angostura Bitters and a house-made cherry cordial produced from a blend of Luxardo cherry juice and grain alcohol.
Reese said his favorite things about the Singapore Sling are its herbaceousness, its dry backbone from the gin, how refreshing it is, and its ability to transport you somewhere back in time.
“You can almost imagine the sweaty guy arriving in Singapore on a steamer, making his way over to the Raffles Hotel, and putting down three of them,” he said.
I was a latecomer to this classic cocktail and have some serious catching up to do. Could my first Grasshopper be next?