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In Bartending, what is a Sling?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A sling is a type of alcoholic drink that at first was not considered a cocktail. In fact there were multiple types of drinks, like flips and toddies that initially do not fall under the heading of cocktail. The term cocktail was at first reserved in the 19th century for those drinks that contain bitters. This distinction is no longer made, and all alcoholic mixed drinks are now essentially considered cocktails, including the sling. However the first cocktails may have been called bittered slings.

The typical sling usually has several base ingredients, some type of alcohol, fruit flavors, particularly citrus, water (flat or fizzy), and sugar. In the 19th century, these drinks could be served hot or cold, and were very similar to many of the hot punches served at the time, though they typically lacked spices. The tradition of serving this drink cold, which is now the preferred method, came into popularity in the early 20th century, particularly with the invention of the Singapore Sling.

The invention of the drink is credited to Ngiam Tong Boom, a bartender at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore during the early 20th century. Historians differ as to when the drink was invented; some suggest earlier than 1910, while other suggest the recipe was first made in 1915. The Singapore Sling, though there are many recipes for it, may include the following:

  • Gin
  • Cherry brandy
  • Cointreau
  • Benedictine
  • Pineapple juice
  • Lime juice
  • Grenadine

The drink is garnished with mixed fruit, and served either straight up or over ice, depending upon the individual drinker’s preference. Early recipes suggest the ingredients were shaken with ice and then strained and served straight up. Surprisingly, many recipes of the Singapore version call for a dash of bitters, which would technically be outside the traditional classification for slings.

Since the invention of Singapore Slings, many people have enjoyed similar cocktails, thinking of them as typically light and fruity drinks, which can be quite refreshing in tropical environments.

There are a few variants on the Singapore style that are worth noting. Gin slings are much more true to form, containing only gin, lemon juice, sugar, water, and possibly an orange peel twist. The Highland sling substitutes Scotch for gin, but is quite similar in other respects. Other alterations either vary alcohols used or change the flavor completely by using different juices. For instance, a papaya sling uses papaya juice, and cherry versions omit most of the alcohol, and are composed only of cherry brandy, water, and lemon juice.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By wavy58 — On May 05, 2012

Slings sound delicious! The only type of alcohol that I like to drink is the fruity kind, so this sounds like something I would love.

I particularly love citrus drinks. I bet that pineapple juice and cherry brandy goes very well together, because I love eating actual pineapple slices with maraschino cherries. I also love pineapple upside-down cake, which has pineapples and cherries on top, so I may need to find a recipe for this sling to go with my dessert.

I really don't like the taste of bitter alcohol, and the fruit juice in my favorite drinks disguise that. Are slings more sweet than they are bitter?

By strawCake — On May 04, 2012

@starrynight - Drink popularity does tend to change over the years. When I turned 21, my grandmother suggested I try a few drinks that none of my friends had ever heard of. I guess they were popular when she was younger.

Anyway, I don't think you're the only bartender/former bartender that isn't familiar with the sling. One of my friends tried to order one at a bar a few weeks ago (she was watching old movies and heard one of the characters order it and thought it sounded good) and the bartender had no idea what she was talking about.

They ended up doing an Internet search on the phone to find out how to make it! I tried a sip and I thought it was pretty good!

By starrynight — On May 03, 2012

I guess slings aren't that popular anymore. I bartended for a few years, and I never had anyone order a sling! In fact, I had never heard of this drink until I stumbled on this article.

Maybe I'll ask my grandparents if this was a popular drink back in their day. I know the popularity of drinks come and go. For example, when I was bartending, any drink involving Jagermeister was extremely popular. Drinks where alcohol was mixed with an energy drink came in a close second.

I imagine in another 40 or so years these drinks will be forgotten, just like the sling.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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