By Don George
The first time I visited Singapore (where Crystal Serenity will overnight during its 12-day February 29 sailing from Bali), 40 years ago, I had one specific goal: to drink a Singapore Sling at the fabled Raffles Hotel. Four decades later, on my most recent visit to that extraordinarily energetic city, I had the same goal, and made a pilgrimage to the gracious, white-columned, terracotta-roofed colonial landmark, built in 1887, where I’d sipped my first Sling.
The cocktail that was the object of my quest, the storied Singapore Sling, was invented at the Raffles Long Bar by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. The original recipe was lost in the 1930s, but two different concoctions emerged based on other bartenders’ memories and patrons’ scribbled notes. One consisted of gin, cherry brandy, and orange, pineapple and lime juice; the other used gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, and fresh pineapple juice from Sarawak pineapples. Over the years, other variations arose as well, but whatever the ingredients, the Sling’s reputation and popularity only grew, and the drink came to symbolize an era of opulence and exploration, and a lifestyle of elegance and ease gone by.
The Raffles menu today features half a dozen variations on the Sling, but I chose the classic, the “Raffles Hotel Famous Sling,” which beautifully blends gin, Cherry Heering, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine and Angostura bitters. The bartender nodded and smiled as he mixed and shook my drink and poured it into a tall glass, then the waitress delivered it with a ceremonial flourish. For a few moments, as at a Japanese tea ceremony, I simply savored this treasure: a cool, foamy concoction the color of a tropical sunset, served in a tall, specially monogrammed glass graced with a slice of a pineapple and a maraschino cherry. Then I sat and sipped in utter bliss, under the palm fronds and a balmy sky. Soon enough the years slipped by, and I was joined by Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad. They were all scribbling in their journals as I was scribbling in mine, but at one moment we caught each other’s eye, and raised our Slings in a toast to “once upon a time.”
Crystal guests can visit the storied Raffles Hotel on a number of Crystal Adventures excursions, including Spirit of Singapore City Orientation, Singapore by Night, and Cultural Revelations, on the Malaysian Mystique cruise.