All through September and October I kept hearing about the Peter F. Heering Sling Awards which were taking place in Berlin. I wasn't particularly interested because, well, it's one of approximately 12 skadillion cocktail competitions that take place around the globe each year. And besides, I thought, I don't even really know what a sling is.
Which got me wondering -- what the heck is a sling, anyway? My knowledge included exactly three sling-related factoids:
1. The bittered sling was present at the birth of the modern cocktail in the early 1800s -- in fact, the very first mention of the word "cocktail" in print, back in 1806, mentioned that it was "vulgarly known as bittered sling." It was described as a spirit, sugar, water and bitters, which basically made it an Old Fashioned.
2. The Singapore Sling is a yummy cocktail first created at at the Raffles hotel bar in Singapore in the early 20th century. It includes lots of ingredients, at least one of which I never have on hand, so I don't make it at home.
3. Modern slings include Cherry Heering.
Well, I was right about #1, at least. Nobody quite knows what the real, proper, original Singapore Sling recipe was. And in fact the early Singapore Slings may not have even included Cherry Heering, although today it's a virtually essential ingredient.
At this point you may be asking, what the heck is Cherry Heering? Well, first off, it's not a fruit-flavored fish. It's actually a cherry brandy from Denmark that's been around since 1818. It makes a delicious after-dinner liqueur, but more importantly it's used in the Singapore Sling and the Scotch whisky-based Blood & Sand, two of the greatest cocktails you may have never made at home, possibly because you don't have a bottle of Cherry Heering on hand.
The Blood & Sand's recipe is more or less a constant, but the air of mystery surrounding the Singapore Sling's "real" recipe gives bartenders, both pro and amateur, a lot of latitude when creating it. Which is why the Peter F. Heering Sling Award competition can exist. Which leads us back to the question, what is a sling? Simon Difford, one of the judges for the semifinal, said, ""The definition of what a Sling actually is was stretched to the breaking point by some competitors in their quest to stand out...." Other judges, like
David Rosengarten, the famed food/wine writer and one of the judges of the contest, admitted to not really knowing the textbook definition of a sling: "I wasn't sure what had to be included in a sling, besides Cherry Heering, of course [this was the one hard-and-fast rule of the competition]. Gin? Juice? And then [fellow judge and cocktail historian] David Wondrich took us aside and told us, 'Don't think of the Singapore Sling as a drink, think of it as a category.' And then it all made sense." A HA!
The award-winning Sloe Sling.
Suitably emboldened, the panel of six judges (plus the invited audience, which also cast votes) tried the five drinks and quickly and unanimously settled on the winner. As Rosengarten put it, "It was pretty obvious to me which one stood out from the rest, and it turned out that the rest of the panel felt the same way." The triumphant cocktail was the Sloe Sling, created by Denmark's own Nick Kobbernagel Hovind, which switches out traditional gin and Benedictine for sloe gin (flavored with sloe berries) and aquavit -- a nice Nordic touch. The recipe, for all you home bartenders out there:
In a Boston shaker glass combine the following ingredients....
2 cl. Cherry Heering
1.5 cl. Bitter Truth Sloe gin
4 cl. Aalborg Taffel Aquavit
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
3 cl. Fresh lemon juice
1 cl. Simple Syrup
1 small dash egg white
Shake all ingredients hard for 8 seconds. Double strain into a very chilled Palais glass. Top with 3 cl. soda and stir. Garnish.
(In case you're wondering, 3 cl. is about 1 ounce.)
Does that explain what a sling is? Not really? Perhaps the best idea is to fix up a sling of your own and stop worrying about it. Here's a Singapore Sling recipe from Gary (gaz) Regan's indispensable tome, The Joy Of Mixology. Don't be afraid to muck about with it -- switching out ratios, base spirits, citrus, you name it (I recently made one using Basil Hayden's bourbon in place of gin). After all, the Singapore Sling isn't just a cocktail, it's a category. Get it now?
Gaz Regan's Singapore Sling recipe:
2 oz. London dry gin (gaz recommends Beefeater)
1/2 oz. Cherry Heering
1/4 oz. Benedictine
1/2 oz. triple sec
2 oz. pineapple juice
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Angostura bitters to taste
Shake everything except the club soda, and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with club soda.