[UPDATE: The Long Bar at Raffles Singapore is closed from today for refurbishment until 2018 but Singapore Slings will be continue to be served at the hotel’s Bar and Billiard Room during 2017.]
Take equal measures of quality and tradition, add a dash of modernity and a splash of serendipity, and you have the perfect recipe to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling.
The gin-based cocktail is said to have been invented at Raffles, Singapore by barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. By chance Sam Galsworthy, the co-founder of Sipsmith artisan gin, visited the iconic hotel and requested a meeting with the F&B director the year before the landmark anniversary. And Galsworthy happens to be a descendant of Sir Stamford Raffles – the British statesman who founded Singapore and after whom the hotel was named.
“I’ve always felt an emotional connection with Raffles because Sir Stamford Raffles was my great, great, great, great, great grandfather,” says Galsworthy, whose first name is officially Stamford. “When I mentioned this to Nigel [Moore], I saw his face light up as I hoped it would. But I was blissfully unaware that 2015 would be the centenary of the Singapore Sling.”
The timing of Galsworthy’s visit was serendipitous as Diana Banks, Raffles vice president of brand and luxury sales explains. “We had started thinking about what we could do to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling. It had to have elements of both the old and the new and we thought that a bespoke gin would be an excellent way to do this but had not thought of a partner we could work with,” she says. “I had heard about Sipsmith and their growing reputation for catalyzing the revival of gin culture in London. They share so much of the attributes that Raffles has.”
When it launched in 2009, Sipsmith was the first new copper gin distillery in London for 200 years. Like Raffles, they pride themselves on heritage and high standards, producing London dry gin in the authentic way with no short cuts. As well as producing their spirits in copper stills (they have three – nicknamed Prudence, Constance and Patience), they use the “one shot” process where no extra alcohol is added to stretch and dilute the gin.
Originally the Raffles team suggested creating a gin in a style similar to one around in 1915. But the idea was quickly over-ruled by Sipsmith’s master distiller. “He said we certainly will not,” said Galsworthy. Apparently 1915 was not a great year for gin quality.
Instead, for the Raffles 1915 gin, Sipsmith incorporated spices and ingredients of Southeast Asia. The spirit is inspired by the hotel’s location but is also a nod to Sir Stamford, who developed Singapore as a port for the spice trade and had a keen interest in botany. He had even cultivated spices on Government Hill, now Fort Canning in Singapore.
Six botanicals that would have gone into an original London gin, and go into every Sipsmith bottle, form the base of Raffles 1915: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, cinnamon and lemon peel. On top of that Sipsmith has added pomelo, lemongrass, jasmine, nutmeg, mace and clove.
After some 40 variations, the Sipsmith team got down to a long-list of nine formulas that were whittled down to two. These were sent to Turkey, where the Raffles top brass were attending a conference, for the final sampling. “It was the best part of the three days,” laughs Simon Hirst, general manager of Raffles Singapore. “There was one clear winner that had a unique freshness and brightness.”
From this month Raffles 1915 is available across F&B outlets in Raffles Singapore and Paris. And the exclusive gin is not limited to making Singapore Sling cocktails which also include cherry brandy, Cointreau, DOM Benedictine, Angostura bitters, grenadine and pineapple and lime juice. “It will be used in Singapore Slings but it’s not anchored to one specific drink,” says Galsworthy. “Gin is so versatile and Raffles 1915 has an incredible mouth feel and warmth so I love it on the rocks or in a martini.” Galsworthy also suggests a garnish of one of the overlaying Southeast Asian ingredients such as lemongrass or pomelo. “I love crushed jasmine flowers in it. Whichever you choose will really bring that ingredient to the fore.”
By the end of the year the gin will go into Raffles hotels in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Beijing and Hainan. All remaining Raffles properties will take delivery in 2016, as Raffles 1915 is not solely being produced for the Sling’s centennial year. “It’s definitely a long haul product,” says Hirst. “I think we have our own copper still?” he asks Galsworthy who confirms that Patience is exclusively dedicated to crafting Raffles 1915.
“It’s one of those great opportunities where everything fell into place at the right time,” Hirst continues. “This is a hotel that’s built on stories and this is the latest one. It’s a match made in Singapore.”
This piece was originally published in November 2015.