Raffles Hotels and gin have a long and storied history together: Back in 1915, legendary gin-based cocktail the Singapore Sling was invented at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and today the bar sells more than 23,000 of them monthly. In order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cocktail, Raffles, which today has 12 locations around the world, partnered with Sipsmith Gin to create a bespoke gin with ingredients inspired by the Malay Basin, and we were fortunate enough to be able to travel to London and Paris to meet with hotel executives and the distillers as they unveiled their creation.
“In celebration of the 100th anniversary of this legendary cocktail, we wanted to think of something different,” Diana Banks, Raffles’ Vice President, told the crowd gathered at Sipsmith’s West London distillery, the first copper-pot distillery to open in London since Beefeater in 1820. “We were looking for a partner to work with on this new idea, and Sipsmith has a reputation for meticulousness and dedication, so it was a perfect match.”
Making the match even more perfect is the fact that Sam Galsworthy, who founded the distillery in 2008 with childhood friend Fairfax Hall, is the great, great, great nephew of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and the namesake of the flagship hotel. “It’s a celebration of 100 years of arguably the world’s most famous gin cocktail, so we asked ourselves if we could craft a gin that could have been found 100 years ago in Singapore,” he added.
In order to craft the gin, the team turned to master distiller Jared Brown, an Upstate New York native who’s one of the world’s foremost spirits authorities (his books on the subject include The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth, Spiritous Journey: A History of Drink, and Mixologist: The Journey of the American Cocktail). If anyone is qualified to dive into the history of gin to create an entirely new specimen, it’s Brown, and he spent hours upon hours in the distillery’s laboratory perfecting the botanical blend. “We started by looking at the gin, one that would have been made in Jakarta 100 years ago,” Brown told the crowd. “We wanted to make a traditional London Dry Gin as they would have tried to do before it evolved extensively over the decades.”
The final product contains botanicals inspired by what would have been found in the region, including jasmine flowers, pomelo peel, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaf, nutmeg, and cardamom, along with Sipsmith’s traditional gin botanicals, which include juniper, coriander, and orris root. The resulting gin is smooth and full bodied, with a floral, orange spice flavor and a bright and balanced finish. As opposed to most gins, in which the botanicals are turned in a gin concentrate and then diluted with neutral grain spirits, Sipsmith makes its gin in the “one shot” style, where the botanical blend is steeped in neutral spirits and water before being distilled and reduced with water to bottling strength. Very few gins are produced via this traditional method today, and it leads to a truly superior product.
While today the Singapore Sling is traditionally made with gin, cherry heering, Cointreau, Benedictine, pineapple juice, lime juice, and bitters, at the time of its invention it was a much simpler and more refined cocktail, made with gin, Benedictine, lime, and soda over ice in a highball. Brown poured some of these classic interpretations for the crowd, as well as a gin pahit (pronounced “fight”), another classic colonial Malayan cocktail made with gin and Angostura bitters.
The following day, the party continued at Raffles’ Le Royal Monceau Hotel in Paris, a luxurious and funky newer property designed by renowned architect Philippe Starck. At the hotel’s Le Bar Long (named after the Singapore original), the distillers and Raffles executives along with assorted media and guests sampled cocktails made with the gin as well as passed hors d’oeuvres. Sampling the cocktails in such a refined setting made it even more evident of the high caliber of this brand new style of gin.
If you’d like to try the new gin for yourself, you’ll need to visit the bar at one of the Raffles Hotels & Resorts’ locations around the world (locations include Beijing, Dubai, Istanbul, and Jakarta). Those in London can also pick up a bottle (while supplies last) at Selfridge’s, and enjoy a cocktail made with the gin at Harry Gordon’s Bar at Selfridge’s. Thankfully for those in America, Sipsmith’s small-batch London Dry Gin is available at most liquor stores.