The International Writers Magazine: Alcohol
Dispatch: Dangerous Drinks
John M. Edwards
The Real Singapore Sling
John M. Edwards flies all the way to ex-Empire Changi Airport to try an authentic ancient Chinese secret called “Singapore Sling.”
I flew all the way to Ex-Empire Changi Airport, in Singapore, in order to try a real authentic “Singapore Sling.”
Since I had a stopover there anyway on my way back to Bangkok from Bali, I decided to turn a brief inconvenience into a liquid epiphany.
Here I was finally in a prosperous conservative city-state carved out of the ex-British Malayan Federation in 1965--a veritable “island” which vetoes Hippy travelers (or offers a free haircut on site). I was therefore overtly surprised that my tied-off ponytail sufficed.
Perhaps best known as the country where chewing gum and spitting is illegal—which also acts “English” with an RP accent--and where expat Michael Fay received an official “caning” (spanking), I secretly thrilled that the airport actually did have something our ailing American airports sadly lacked: a “Smoking Section”!
Albeit: only a glassed-in booth resembling a pleasant gas chamber. (Luckily, the Singapore Chinese are among the world’s most voracious smokers!)
I thought I had indeed arrived in Heaven when I noticed ashtrays in secluded spots throughout this dazzling flight emporium, thus placing it, in my mind’s eye, thoroughly above opprobrium.
In almost any good bar in the world you can get a “counterfeit” Sling—made with gin, cherry brandy, sugar, water, and whatever: a dash of grenadine?!
But to search out the real “Singapore Sling,” you must actually be in situ. Invented in 1915, by Ngian Tong Boon, a bartender working at the Long Bar at Singapore’s world-famous Raffles Hotel, the potent potable “poison” became an exotic mainstay of neocolonial travelers wearing pith helmets in the 1920s.
Even Sir Winston Churchill was reported to have downed one or three on vacay.
Even today the drink is synonymous with “Oriental” port-of-call chic, something Captain Haddock might drink among stevedores clamoring for absinthe on dangerous loading docks.
At a random flash airport bar in the futuristic feng shui, which connects 200 destinations worldwide, with 5,000 flights a week navigated by 80 different airlines, I wallowed, and then talked myself into it. The drinking establishment, with tables and chairs laid out in a pleasant Zen-like astrophysical social space, like the aftermath of a big bang, apparently did not have a name.
I asked, sotto voce, for a “Real Singapore Sling.” The poker-faced Chinese bartender cracked a smile, as if I had indeed ordered something naughty and dangerously seditious, even possibly a little illegal.
I paid in advance with an overgenerous tip, in order to get the real mccoy, which, according to a sage Singapore businessman whose table I thereupon requested to join, Collins glass in right hand and "southpaw swipe" on left hand, was reputedly once laced with “opium.”
I drank the whole thing down in a series of shuddery desperate gulps. I then obtained another and another and another--in order to pursue maximum effects.
I ended up doing a drunken beeline for my gate with my backpack, resembling an amateur smuggler narrowly evading Interpol—with a hidden pack of Hubba Bubba stuck up his arse.
Once aboard the impressive plane, I settled into my aisle seat while a wretched farang businessman, resembling Charles Nelson O’Reilly from “The Hollywood Squares,” obviously suffering either from fearful flying or nicotine withdrawals, awkwardly climbed over over me. (“Ghlghl!)
Meanwhile Air Singapore’s lovely leggy stewardesses acted as if I were in a spa rather than a rocketship. In Asian air, apparently, everything still was a freebie! (How unlike American and European airlines where you have to pay for everything from alcoholic drinks to extra pillows to extra cashews.)
I crashed out quickly, an aurora australis burning inside my brain, and sometime later landed with a thud in royal Thailand, wondering where was I, again, dry mouth skunked and rasping for moisture.
Time stood still.
I reached into the marsupial pouch on the seatback and deftly withdrew a monogrammed barfbag, wiping my chin with a ripped-off corner of crossword.
Studying the resultant revelatory contents in the bag, I divined that one overlooked ingredient giving the Sling its zing might in fact be human (or “tiger”) blood, mixed in with a little Kipling “ghee”—or, shudder, grenadine!
According to Imbibe magazine, here is a surefire recipe for the (secret) Sling, which closely approximates the former Crown Colony original:
INGREDIENTS: “SINGAPORE SLING”
1. 1 oz London Dry Gin (Sapphire)
2. 1 oz Bols Cherry Brandy or Cherry Heering
3. 1 oz Benedictine
4. 1 oz fresh lime juice
5. 2 oz soda water
6. 1 dash Angostora Bitters
*Shake all ingredients, except club soda, with ice and strain into tall glass with crushed ice and cherry garnish. And please, no grenadine.
© John M. Edwards, 2012
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam, to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji, to bussing Vietnam on a Larium buzz. He is the recipient of four NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Literal Latté Travel Writing Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” He is editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations. He turned down a job as lead bassist for STP (The Stone Temple Pilots) way back when before they were big.