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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Lauren Eads

Cocktail of the Week: The Singapore Sling

This week’s cocktail was invented at one of the world’s great hotels, Raffles Hotel in Singapore.  Well, probably, the Singapore Sling has a convoluted and fascinating history as Lauren Eads…

This week’s cocktail was invented at one of the world’s great hotels, Raffles Hotel in Singapore.  Well, probably, the Singapore Sling has a convoluted and fascinating history as Lauren Eads finds out. 

There’s few cocktails more famous than the Singapore Sling. Born at the turn of the century in colonial Singapore, it screams frivolity with its luminous pink hue, foamy top, lemon slice (sometimes pineapple) and glacé cherry garnish. In the hands of some, it can be a dangerously garish cocktail that would be tacky if it weren’t such a classic. But there is method to its madness, amid a convoluted history.

The Raffles Hotel story

It’s widely reported that the Singapore Sling was created in 1915 (or thereabouts) by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. At that time the hotel’s Long Bar had become a popular gathering spot, positioned near the newly improved rail and road systems that brought rubber and palm oil plantation owners over to Singapore from Malaya every weekend. So much so that it had become known as ‘the ‘Rendezvous of Planters’.

Men were a firm fixture, of course, but what’s more curious is a twist that would see the Singapore Sling intertwined with (some kind of) feminism. At the time, women were not allowed to consume alcohol in public. Instead they were reduced to drinking only juices and teas to “save their modesty”. What a drab way to spend an afternoon.

Raffles Singapore Sling

Where it all began, probably, Raffles Hotel in Singapore

A man ahead of his time

Tong Boon, who was either a feminist or a capitalist, saw an opportunity to create a beverage that appeared non-alcoholic (hence the juicy appearance and bright colour), but was actually infused with a kick of gin.

Today, Raffles lists the recipe as being made with gin, pineapple juice, lime juice, Triple Sec and Bénédictine D.O.M. Tong Boon is said to have added grenadine and cherry liqueur to turn the serve pink, supposedly chosen to give it a “feminine flair”. 

The clandestine cocktail became a hit with women and men alike, and so it is to this day. That’s how the Raffles story goes, but where cocktails lead, controversy often follows.

The Pink Sling

In 2011, journalist and cocktail historian David Wondrich found contradictions to the Raffles tale having trawled through old newspapers, unearthing references to ‘Slings’ throughout the late 1890s, twenty years before Tong Boon’s invention.

The Sling cocktail is well documented with origins in North America (spirit, soda water and sweetened with sugar). But he also unearthed references to ‘Pink Slings for pale people’ as early as 1903 – still a decade or so before Raffles lays claim to the pink drink.

By the time Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book was published we find three similar yet distinct cocktails; the Gin Sling, the Singapore Sling and the Straits Sling.

The Straits Sling is the closest to Tong Boon’s Singapore Sling, calling for gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, lemon juice, angostura bitters and orange bitters, topped up with soda water. (The Straits Sling was also popularised by Robert Vermeire’s 1922 Cocktails and How to Mix Them, though his version called for clear kirschwasser and was not pink).  Craddock describes the Singapore Sling as dry gin, cherry brandy and lemon, topped with soda water, a minimalist version of both a Straits Sling and the Raffles’ Singapore Sling recipe.

Fear and loathing - Singapore Sling

Hunter S. Thompson (Johnny Depp) enjoying a Singapore Sling or two in the film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

So who added the grenadine?

But neither call for pineapple juice or grenadine like the Raffles’ ‘classic’ recipe. So, how did they come into the mix? Simon Difford from Difford’s Guide posits that they were added in the 1970s to appease a growing taste for sweeter, tiki-style drinks, while also making use of the abundance of pineapples in Singapore. This is a likely assumption – the Singapore Sling’s heyday was no doubt the ‘70s. 

Hedonist and literary legend Hunter S. Thomson might have helped raise its cool. Thought to be one of his favourite cocktails, he makes reference to a session of drinking Singapore Slings “with mescal on the side and beer chasers” in his 1971 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (though admittedly Thompson referenced a lot of drinks throughout his literary career).

The Singapore Sling has had a confusing journey, full of mystery and misnomers. My take? Tong Boon’s drink most likely began as a Gin Sling at Raffles (sugar, gin, ice, topped up with soda), probably transformed into a Straits ‘pink’ Sling (with the addition of Benedictine, cherry brandy and bitters), and later gained the name ‘Singapore’, which had a more internationally-appealing ring to it. Pineapple and grenadine were completely arbitrary additions, which ironically is what most now associate with a Singapore Sling…

So, while variations exist, I see two closely related versions of this classic; the sweeter Raffles ‘Singapore Sling’, and the pared back drier ‘Straits Sling’. Here’s how to make them both.

Singapore Sling credit: Raffles Hotel

Singapore Sling credit: Raffles Hotel

Singapore Sling (according to Raffles Hotel)

30ml gin
15ml Heering cherry brandy liqueur
7.5ml Cointreau triple sec
7.5ml Benedictine D.O.M
15ml fresh lime juice
120ml pineapple juice
10ml grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Soda water

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a Hurricane (Sling) glass. Top up with soda and garnish with a lemon slice and cherry on a stick.

Straits Sling (according to Harry Craddock in 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, made for six)

4oz (120ml) dry gin
1oz (30ml) Benedictine D.O.M
1oz (30ml) cherry brandy
Juice of two lemons
1tsp Angostura bitters
1tsp orange bitters
Soda water

Shake well and strain into a glass. Top with soda water and ice.

 

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Shannon Tebay: an American at the American Bar

Last month the American Bar at the Savoy in London welcomed its first ever real actual American head bartender, Shannon Tebay, formerly of Death & Co. in New York. We took…

Last month the American Bar at the Savoy in London welcomed its first ever real actual American head bartender, Shannon Tebay, formerly of Death & Co. in New York. We took some time with her to find out how she’s enjoying one of the most high profile jobs in the business.

Dill and coconut. Passionfruit and fennel. Carrot eau de vie? These are some of the flavour combinations set to appear (word has it) on the new cocktail menu at The Savoy’s American Bar in London.

The iconic bar first opened its doors in the 1890s and was one of the first places to introduce American-style cocktails to Europe. Famous patrons include Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. While head bartender Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, has been a bartending bible for nearly a century.

An American at the American Bar

After a temporary closure it is finally set to reopen this month (walk-ins only) and with a new head bartender at the helm: Shannon Tebay. She brings with her a decade’s worth of experience bartending in New York, including seven at one of the city’s must-go cocktail bars, Death & Co.

Yes, she’s an American and a woman; the first American to ever hold the title and only the second woman since the inimitable Ada Coleman, who filled the role from 1903-1926. She’s also an acclaimed bartender with a penchant for painting and pastry who is crazy about coconuts.

Shannon Tebay

An American at the American Bar, whatever next?

Precision and consistency

Tebay, originally from New Mexico, first moved to New York in 2010 to pursue a masters degree in painting and drawing but instead fell in love with the epicurean delights of the city. No sooner had she put down her paint brush, she picked up a palette knife, signing up for a course in French pastry at the French Culinary institute. While studying pastry she took a serving job at the Death & Co. cocktail bar. Ultimately, the allure of mixology proved too great and, realising the parallels between the two crafts, decided to pursue a career in cocktails.

“People often ask me if I use my pastry skills in cocktails. I think they picture me brulée-ing drinks but that’s not really the case. What I apply is the craft of precision and consistency, because it comes down to chemistry for it to be successful.”

In 2012 she left Death & Co. to join one of its original bartenders, Joaquín Simó, on the opening of his own bar, Pouring Ribbons. Tebay became head bartender and later general manager. It was during this time that she perfected The Faultline – a Negroni variation comprising aquavit, sweet vermouth, amaro and carrot eau de vie. She later returned to Death & Co., rising to head bartender.

Her approach to cocktails is one of minimalism, working to find ways to “do more with less”, being innovative and taking away “necessary bells and whistles”. That’s evident in her own choice of favourite cocktail (Gin Martini with a lemon twist, if you are curious). So don’t expect any elaborate garnishes.

“I think it requires more creativity to come up with an idea that’s new and unusual using ingredients directly out of the bottle and letting the flavour speak for itself, rather than doll it up with unnecessary elements. I’ve had cocktails where the presentation is elaborate but the drink falls flat. First of all the drink has to be delicious, and then we can build on that, rather than the other way around,” she explained.

Nuts about coconut

So, what can we expect from the American Bar’s new menu? Tebay’s minimalistic approach will be evident, as well as a few signature ingredients that are never far from her reach.

“I like to combine unexpected pairings between fruity and savoury or fruity and herbal. For example coconut and dill is a combo I love, passionfruit and fennel are great together too. I gravitate towards combos that on the surface seem surprising but have an unexpected harmony. I’m always going to have a bottle of pear eau de vie within arms reach. I use it in a lot of things and I adore it on it’s own. And I love love love coconut in any form, coconut liqueur, coconut cream, toasted coconut,” she said.

One of Tebay’s signature drinks is the Catamaran, a gin-based coconut cocktail crafted for Death & Co. It calls for a combination of Bimini  gin and navy strength gin, Aperol, Don’s Mix (a blend of two parts grapefruit juice and one part cinnamon-infused simple syrup), Coco Lopez (cream coconut) and lemon juice, served over crushed ice. Essentially a Grapefruit Colada, she explains.

American Bar at the Savoy

But will she be upstaged by the carpets?

No one should ever feel unwelcome at a bar

She’s also adamant that the new menu will be approachable and innovative, stamping out any pretentiousness, paying homage to the bar’s history but paving the way for a new generation of clientele and staff. This includes a modernisation of bartending culture, with Tebay placing particular emphasis on sustainability and building a diverse workforce.

“The fact is no one should ever feel unwelcome at a bar – it doesn’t matter if it’s a dive bar or the fanciest cocktail bar in the world. I want the menu to reflect that. I want it to be approachable yet interesting and the cocktails delicious but not off-putting in their construction or concept,” she said.

The magnitude of the role she’s taking on is not lost on Tebay. How is she feeling about joining one of the most historic bars in London? “You can pick any emotion and I’m feeling it – I am absolutely all of it. Excited, nervous, honoured, humbled and terrified. I know the anticipation for the reopening of the bar is high, and I want to make sure that when we reopen we are delivering at the standard people expect,” she said.

The American Bar is a revered cocktail institution so steeped in history and grandeur that it can seem intimidating. This feels like a new chapter – one that’s starting with a fresh, female and (for the first time) an American, lead. And that’s pretty exciting.

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Courage and grit: Montanya Rum makes its mark

It’s not hard to see why the words ‘trailblazer’, ‘vanguard’ and ‘pioneer’ frequently follow entrepreneur Karen Hoskin, the woman behind Montanya Rum. The values she has instilled at her Colorado…

It’s not hard to see why the words ‘trailblazer’, ‘vanguard’ and ‘pioneer’ frequently follow entrepreneur Karen Hoskin, the woman behind Montanya Rum. The values she has instilled at her Colorado Distillery are three-fold: an unwavering commitment to sustainability, a strong voice on female empowerment, and sensational rum.

It was a sip of aged rum in 1989 that led her into the world of distillation. “It just spoke to me,” recalls Hoskin. “I spent the next 20 years learning about rum, how it’s made and the different traditions. I became geeky about rum and sugar cane.”

Karen-Hoskin - Montanya Rum

It’s Karen Hoskin!

A germ of an idea

But it would be another 20 years (in 2008) until she founded Montanya Distillery, located 9,000 feet in Crested Butte, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with personal savings and no outside investment.

Back then, she was the only female majority owner of a craft distillery in the US, with many assuming she was “somebody’s wife” when attending conferences at the American Distilling Institute. Sustainability in the world of rum was in its infancy, with Hoskin outspoken on the environmentally irresponsible practices of some of the world’s largest rum producers.

Today, Hoskin is not only a leading voice for women in the world of spirits and founder of the Women’s Distillery Guild, but the owner of a B-Corp certified distillery and repeat keynote speaker at the American Distilling Institute.

What’s a B-Corp? “It means we meet the highest third-party verified sustainability, social, philanthropy and employment standards anywhere in the world, and we are ranked in the top 5% of B-Corps” explains Hoskin. “It’s about how we use business as a force for good in the way we handle waste, our supply chain and green energy.” Montanya offsets 100% of its carbon production and is 100% wind powered, while its water is sourced from a snowmelt-fed aquifer underneath the distillery.

Montanya’s pot-distilled “Mountain Rums” are well decorated too. In 2015, its Platino won ‘World’s Best White Rum’ at the World Rum Awards in the UK. In 2017 its Oro won USA ‘Rum of the Year’ at the Berlin International Spirits Competition.

What’s a mountain rum?

The origins of mountain rum are rooted in Central and South American countries including Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua, which is where Hoskin’s approach to distilling originates. Altitude is the key factor, with rum aged in cool mountain top warehouses allowing for a long and slow ageing period, compared to the rapid tropical ageing in a hot and humid climate, such as the Caribbean.

Hoskin never adds sugar to her rums and only uses sugar cane grown at a family-owned farm in Louisiana, which also upholds her high standards on sustainability (no chemical pesticides, no cane burning in the field, a biomass operated mill) and is also non GMO. She takes it in two forms; dehydrated granulated cane and molasses, then puts it “back together again” at the distillery.

“Some people say Montanya is reminiscent of an agricole rum, which is made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice, and that’s because I’m using 100% of what’s in the sugar cane, minus the water and solids (known as bagasse).”

Montanya Distillers

The stills at Montanya in Colorado

What makes a Montanya rum?

Montanya’s four single barrel rums – Platino, Oro, Exclusiva and Valentia – are distilled in small batches in copper pot stills and aged in American white oak ex-whiskey barrels. They are differentiated through their length of ageing and cask finish.

Platino spends 12-18 months in a cask previously used to age Montanya’s Oro rum. It’s then filtered through a coconut-husk charcoal filter to remove the colour. The result is a bright, light and clean rum with notes of biscotti, cream soda, cardamom, coffee, vanilla, pepper, bell pepper, chilli pepper and a little spice.

“In the rum world you see an 8 or a 12, but that might only be a small portion of what’s in the bottle,” says Hoskin. “This is a single barrel rum which means it’s 100% of the age we say it is. I can’t cheat and add other rums to correct anything. I leave it in the barrel until it has the characteristics that I want.”

The Oro spends 12-18 months in an ex-whiskey barrel. “Most of that character of the barrel is going into the Oro. While the Platino is a little brighter, lighter, cleaner, the Oro is darker, richer, oilier and a touch sweeter because of the contributions of the whisky.”

Expect red chilli, coffee, caramel, vanilla, pineapple and chocolate. “Pineapple is about as fruity as we get in our tasting notes,” says Hoskin. “A lot of Caribbean distillers are producing esters associated with fruit. We tend to be more associated with rich, baking flavours.”

Exclusiva is aged for three years in American oak, with its final six months in an ex-Port and Cabernet Sauvignon French oak barrel. It finishes a little drier and “more tannic” than most rums in general, says Hoskin, with notes of cinnamon, honey and vanilla.

The Montanya range

The Montanya range

An ode to women

The final bottling, Valentia, meaning courage or grit in Spanish, is touched by women at every step, from fermenters and distillers to bottlers and bartenders. It’s an “ode to what it took to overcome the barriers in the business” says Hoskin, and a celebration of the progress made by women in rum.

“It’s sad that we even have to talk about the fact that we are women in this industry, but if we don’t women don’t see it as a viable career and we just reinforce the absence of women,” explains Hoskin. “Elevating and making visible women in the business who are thriving attracts more women to the business.”

Aged for four years in American oak, it’s final 6-12 weeks are spent in an ex-rye barrel from Catoctin Creek, Virginia. This rum is mellow, smooth and all about vanilla, cardamon, ginger, honeysuckle, white flowers and spice.

Not the next big thing

Right now Hoskin is working on getting her rum in the hands of fans around the world, not turning it into ‘the next big thing’.

She explains: “10 years ago I was sitting in 67 Colebrook Row when it won best bar in London. They get out of the awards ceremony and everyone mobbed there. It was this small intimate setting and within 30 minutes the entire demographic shifted. Everyone wanted to be at this hot bar and it lost its je ne sais quoi. It would be my dream that rum never gets its day. I would love for it to be a place for connoisseurs; it doesn’t need to be for everyone. Just for people who have a reason to fall in love with it.”

Montana rums are available from Master of Malt. Click here for more information. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Pisco Sour

This week’s drink has a glamorous history. Born in Peru in the 1920s (or maybe Chile, there is some debate), it was drunk by film stars, writers and presidents alike….

This week’s drink has a glamorous history. Born in Peru in the 1920s (or maybe Chile, there is some debate), it was drunk by film stars, writers and presidents alike. Our new contributor Lauren Eads takes a closer look at the Pisco Sour!

Did you know that Ernest Hemingway holds the record for the most Pisco Sours drunk in one sitting at the Gran Hotel Bolivar in Lima? Or that John Wayne once had to carry Hollywood starlet Ava Gardner out of a bar after one Pisco Sour too many? I’ll take both accounts with a good pinch of salt. But don’t they paint a glamorous picture of Peru’s beloved cocktail?

If you’ve never tried a Pisco Sour you’re missing out. It’s a cocktail that sings of summer with its sweet sour tang and foamy-egg texture, shot through with a bolt of Pisco and a balancing dash of Angostura bitters.

So, how did this gloriously sweet and sour concoction come to be?

An American bartender in Peru

American bartender Victor Vaughen Morris is widely credited with its invention. Born in Utah, Morris moved to Peru in the early 1900s and opened a bar in Lima in 1916, shortly before Prohibition came into force in the US. At that time, Lima was undergoing a cultural renaissance, with the Jiron de la Union, a pedestrianised boulevard, at its heart. It was here that Morris’ bar became a thriving hub for English-speaking travellers and the purported birthplace of the Pisco Sour. It was created by Morris as an alternative to the Whisky Sour, but it was a bartender by the name of Mario Bruiget, who worked at Morris’ Bar, who really put the cherry on the top. He added the all important dash of Angostura bitters and egg white to the recipe sometime towards the end of the 1920s – the Pisco Sour, as we know it, had arrived!

Newspaper and magazine adverts for Morris’ Bar dating to 1924 implored ‘English-speaking’ travellers to stop by and enjoy its notable ‘Pisco Sours’. Famous clientele listed on the bar’s registry include Emiliano Figueroa, ex-president of the Republic of Chile and its ambassador in Peru, Alfred Louis Kroeber, an archaeologist from the University of California Berkeley and Juan Ramón Montero, the first aviator to fly from Lima to (coincidentally) Pisco – a port city on Peru’s southern coast where pisco is said to have originated. It’s not hard to see how the Pisco Sour travelled far and wide. It blazed a trail to California in the 1930s reaching bars as far north as San Francisco, and by the late 1960s could be found in New York.

Victor Vaughen Morris

Victor Vaughen Morris, inventor of the Pisco Sour, probably

Proto-Pisco Sours

Morris popularised the Pisco Sour, but it’s worth noting that there were mentions of similar serves prior to his. The most concrete is in a cookbook published in Lima in 1903, Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla. In it is a ‘cocktail’ which calls for “an egg white, a glass of pisco, a teaspoon of fine sugar and a few drops of lemon” – a striking resemblance to the Pisco Sour if only for the absence of bitters. It’s not exactly the classic we now know, but the beginnings of a beverage waiting to be cut from the rough and refined for international stardom.

Today, the Pisco Sour is so embedded in Peruvian culture that it has its own national holiday, with ‘Dia Nacional del Pisco Sour’ (National Pisco Sour Day) taking place on the first Saturday in February.

The Chilean claim

But the Peruvian tale is only half of the story. Chile has fiercely refuted claims that pisco originated in Peru, claiming equal rights to the name ‘pisco’ in a rivalry that stretches for centuries. Indeed, Peru and Chile were once united under the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542-1824) under Spanish rule, during which time pisco was first produced, muddying the waters further over which country should retain ownership. Furthermore, Chile claims the Pisco Sour was in fact invented by English steward Elliot Stubb in 1872 on Chilean soil, throwing shade on Peru’s well-publicised account of its creation. The dispute runs so deep that Peruvian Pisco cannot legally be sold in Chile, and is instead sold under the name Aguardiente de Uva. It’s also illegal to bring Chilean Pisco into Peru with travellers warned any such bottles will be confiscated.

If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, Peruvian Pisco producers are prohibited from ageing their spirit in wood whereas Chilean producers can and do use wood, sometimes ageing their spirit for as long as a year. The grapes permitted to distill the spirit in each country also vary, though use aromatic grapes from the Muscat family, alongside non-aromatic varieties such as Quebranta, Molla and Uvina. As for the cocktail itself, Peru’s version requires lime juice, while Chile’s omits the egg white and bitters and specifies the use of Pica lime only. Simple, right?

All that really matters is how you make it (easily) and how it tastes – utterly delicious.

Pisco sour crop

How to make a Pisco Sour

This recipe is taken from Martin Morales, chef, restaurateur and founder of the Michelin-Guide listed Peruvian restaurants Ceviche Soho, Andina, Ceviche Old St and Casita Andina in Soho.

50ml Barsol Primero Quebranta
50ml lime juice
50ml sugar syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters

Mix the pisco, lime juice and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker with the egg white. Add a handful of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into two coupe glasses or tumblers, and add a few drops of Angostura bitters to the top of each cocktail. Garnish with a lime slice.

Author biog

Lauren Eads is an NCE/NCTJ trained journalist who started out as a trainee reporter at the Epsom Guardian in Surrey. In 2014, she moved to the Drinks Business where she became managing editor. During this time she completed her WSET Level 2, 3 and Diploma in wines and spirits, judged in a number of wine competitions, and was shortlisted as ’emerging wine writer of the year’ at the 2016 Louis Roederer Wine Writer Awards. She now works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. 

 

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