The Devolution of a Classic Cocktail: the Singapore Sling

You know a place is pretty special when it has a classic cocktail named after it. If you want to drink your way around the world, you can have a Manhattan, a Moscow Mule, a Cuba Libre, and of course a Singapore Sling. I have to have a local drink every time a visit a different city, so while visiting Singapore this week I made a point of ordering the national drink.
There is a lot of legend surrounding the Singapore Sling. It was created  sometime around 1900 b the bartender, Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon, at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. It originated from a request of a British Colonial officer to create a tropical cocktail suitable for a lovely woman in the bar. That’s a damned good reason to craft a cocktail.
The original recipe has been lost, but there are versions floating around that are thought to be fairly true to the first. One recipe that is thought to be close to the original is the Straits Sling:
  • 2 shots gin
  • ½ shot Bénédictine
  • ½ shot dry cherry brandy
  • ½ shot lemon juice
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake well with ice and strain in to a Sling or highball glass. Top off with soda water.

* Source: “Cocktails and How to Mix Them” by Robert Vermeire (1922)

Unfortunately over time the drink has devolved into something almost unrecognizable. It’s been sweetened so that the true character has been lost. In more recent versions pineapple juice and grenadine syrup have become an integral ingredients. These additions definitely keep a tropical feel, but also tends to dominate with sweetness that obscures the complexity of the other flavors.

The Sling I had at local hot spot KPO and it was an overly syrupy concoction. A few of us passed it around and eventually drank most of it over the course of the evening. Here’s what they put in it:

  • Gin
  • Cherry brandy
  • D.O.M
  • Cointreau
  • Pineapple juice
  • Lime juice
  • Grenadine syrup
  • Angostura bitters
  • Top with soda

This is not a drink I would order twice.

If you go to Singapore, consider drinking a local beer instead of a sickeningly sweet sling. My man Slats took me to Brewerkz Singapore, a local micro-brewery with a scenic view of the Singapore River at Riverside Point, which makes more than a dozen craft beers. The open architecture lets you enjoy your beer in full view of the fermentation tanks where the gorgeous stuff is made. I sampled my way through Kolshe, Pilsner, India Pale Ale and Double IPA as we watched State of Origin Australian rugby league matches between Queensland and New South Wales.  I would definitely go back for more of those excellent beers.

What is your favorite drink in Singapore?

What are you drinking?




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A Great Place to Drink Al Fresco: El Arbol

I love spring. Everything is in bloom, the sun stays out a little longer into the evening and its warmth coaxes us to shed those heavy winter clothes and get outside to soak it in. There is nothing better than relaxing outside on a gorgeous spring evening with a delicious cocktail and spirited conversation with friends. Austin has quite possibly the best spring weather on the face of the planet, and lots of great places with outdoor seating to drink in the warm breeze.

 El Arbol, located just north of downtown on the corner of 38th and Glenview, is a wonderful place to loll about in the sun with a drink in hand. With a three-level deck that hides behind the restaurant, there is ample outdoor seating. An iconic oak shades all three levels with a sprawling canopy that must be at least 50 yards in diameter. Privacy walls draped with hanging plants, red painted ornamental iron fencing on the upper decks, and an elaborate hand-carved door give it the feel of a South American court yard.  The setting is a great start, and then there’s the drinks.

The wine list spans about 200 selections and is grouped by “Featured Wines,” “New World Wines,” and “Old World Wines” with descriptions like “aromatic whites,” “crisp whites,” “lighter reds,” “dry reds,” and “full bodied reds.” The New Worlds dominate the list with plenty of bottles from Chile and Argentina. Wines from Argentina make up about 40% of the list. These tend to be the more popular wines as people like to stick to the South American theme of the restaurant.

 My friends Cotton Candy, Good Story and Lovey are huge fans of Malbec, so they ordered a bottle of 2007 Vistalba Corte B, a blend of Cab and Malbec from Mendoza. Delightful. Beautiful Wife ordered a glass of bubbles and dared it to be as vivacious as she. Impossible.

 El Arbol also has a decent cocktail list with drinks like a Pomegranate Blood Orange Martini, an Italiano 75 (a twist on the French 76, made with Prosecco), Palomas and the signature drink, the Caipirinhas.

Caipirinhas (pronounced cai-pee-reen-yah) is the national drink of Brazil. I just had a trip to Brazil canceled, so I ordered it to remind me of what I’ll be missing. Caipirinhas are made with lime, sugar cane and cachaça, which is fermented and distilled sugar cane juice that is aged in oak barrels to make a distinctive brandy. The sugar and lime are muddled before being mixed with the liquor and served over lots of ice. If you want a twist on the classic, try the Caipirinhas Mora that adds a splash of blackberry puree mixed in.

I ordered the classic because it’s the signature drink and because it’s a screamin deal during happy hour. Happy Hour is 5 to 7 pm Tuesday through Friday, by the way. Our kick-ass server, Carter, brought me a Mora on the house because he figured I needed to try it too. He was right.


Look Pale emerald like fresh spring leaves after the rain. The light froth, ample ice and lime wedges make is look a bit like a margarita.
Smell A mild scent of herbs and lime zest.
Taste Fresh, like spring in a glass. The tart lime is the most prominent flavor and it pairs well with the flavor of the cachaça. The liquor is earthy, herbal and a bit sweet, like a cross between tequila and rum.
Price $3 during Happy Hour, $8 normally

Caipirinhas Mora

Look This is a party in a glass; like a blackberry smoothie poured with a flourish over giggling ice cubes.
Smell Citrus sunshine and blackberry happiness leap from the glass.
Taste Tart blackberry dominates the look, smell and taste, but it isn’t so bold to overpower the cachaça. The herbal heather flavor blends well with the lime and berries for a cocktail that begs to be served outside in the sun.
Price $9

 I liked both drinks, but finished the classic first. The happy hour price dared me to order yet another, but I didn’t.

I’ve been to El Arbol more than once and I’ll keep going back to idle in the long rays of the afternoon sun under that towering oak. The fantastic wine list, the delicious cocktails and the gracious atmosphere are just as appealing as the huge outdoor deck. Cotton Candy summed it up nicely: “It has a lovely patio with high-end drinks and nibbles. I don’t have to sacrifice good food for a good patio like I do at some old school Austin places.” There you have it.

What are you drinking?

Townhouse for a Serious Cocktail

When I go out for dinner I want to go someplace where the chef is willing to explore interesting pairings of quality ingredients and serve them with an artistic flair. If I want a basic steak, I can do that at home. We’ve come to expect creativity and excellence in fine dining. The same thing is true with swank drinks.

Austin has a thirst for good drink and fortunately has several excellent places to quench that thirst. Garrett Mikell, a local celeb in the mixologist world, recently opened a cozy boozing den called Townhouse, located on 5th near the intersection of Lavaca. When I first walked in, I instantly relaxed as if they pumped in vaporized Xanax. The chill lighting, exposed brick, high ceilings with pressed tin panels, rich wood bar back scaling to the ceiling accessed with a library ladder, intimate groupings of mismatched couches and chairs on Oriental rugs said, “you look like you could use a damned fine drink.” Yes, yes I could. Add to that a delightful greeting from our gorgeous server, Jennifer, and I was on the verge of bliss.

Jennifer gave me a run-down of the über creative and witty drink menu featuring house-made infused whisky, vodka, rum and gin. Garrett flexed his ingenious cocktail brain to bring us a twist on the mint julep, “Kentucky Derby’s Bitch,” an internet meme in the making, “OMG LOL WTF” and the love-child of a Manhattan and a margarita, “Pancho Villa Manhattan.”

Flummoxed. There were way too many fantastic choices for me, so I turned over the keys to Jennifer, Garrett and bartenders John and Anoop to select drinks for me. Here is what I had.

French 69

This is a sexy twist on the bubbly French 77 with pink peppercorn infused Right gin, lemon simple syrup, champagne and a mist of atomized crème de violet that they spray over the drink to transform it into brilliance. The crème de violet actually changes the color of the drink right before your eyes.

Look Classic Martini glass filled with a lilac slurpy with a haze of fine froth, garnished with a lemon twist.
Smell Sassy French lass blowing bubbles with violet gum.
Taste It came on with bomb-pop sweetness without being syrupy. The bubbly tickled away the sweet letting it ease into a fruit finish that completely obscured any hint of a bitter bite of juniper.
Price $8

Freshershest (slurred like a drunk saying Exorcist)

A theatrical presentation starting off with a pineapple dusted with sugar and torched for caramelized deliciousness, then muddled and mixed with scarlet Ibis blended Trinidad rum, lime tincture and soda.

Look Jolly Rancher lemon yellow smiled up at me, asking to be drunk.
Smell Coy citrus beckoned me in for a closer sniff.
Taste Hawaiian hula dancer swaying her hips before I put it to my lips. A luau of pineapple without the pig.
Price $10

Where is My Stapler?

A hangover breakfast treat if there ever was one. A sophisticated cousin of the bloody Mary with tomato infused Tito’s vodka, black pepper simple, cucumber slices and spears and fresh basil leaves.

Look Tall, lean cylinder basil shreds and cucumber slices suspended in hazy plasma. Not a hint of tomato red.
Smell A fresh cup of gazpacho with spicy black pepper.
Taste Slap-its-face fresh with smooth tomato, clean cucumber and minty basil. I wanted another one of these. Sensational.
Price $9

Hornet’s Ankles

Get the blow-torch out again for thyme brûléed clementine orange in this bee’s knees drink with honeycomb infused gin, lemon simple syrup and raw honey and bits of honey comb.

Look Autumn brown orange leaves in the lazy afternoon sun.
Smell High tea in Nigella Lawson’s herb garden.
Taste Grand Marnier playing with matches. While good, this is the only drink that wasn’t as balanced as I’d like. The thyme over powered the subtle raw honey.
Price $9

My good friend Cotton Candy says that Austin is a town of accidental nights out. There are too many great places to go to stay in at night. When you go out intentionally with the purpose of finding high-caliber cocktails, try Townhouse. Garrett takes his drinks seriously, mixing excellent elements with top-quality liquor. He pays attention to every last detail, including using cold draft cube ice that melts slowly so it doesn’t water down your drink.

If you need more information, you can check out the Townhouse Facebook page or check them out on Twitter @townhouseinfuse (though they haven’t posted anything yet).

Check out this video of John mixing my drinks.

What are you drinking?