Asian Cocktails: A Dash of History and a Kick of Flavor 

By Kayce Tiongson

If you plan to throw an Asian-inspired party at home, we’ve got you covered! Be sure to check out Linda’s suggestions for an Asian Spring Luncheon Tablescape. Besides a beautiful tablescape and delicious food, cocktails play an important role in a fun party too. Surprise your guests with cocktails that they’ll surely love! Don’t miss those three fan-favorite Asian cocktails! 

Singapore Sling

Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the Singapore Sling at Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel in 1915. The gin-based cocktail contains pineapple juice, lime juice, curaçao, and Bénédictine. Grenadine and cherry liqueur give it a pink hue, a color deliberately chosen by Ngiam. Back in the day, Singaporean gentlemen were free to socialize and drink gin or whiskey. Ladies, on the other hand, had teas and fruit juices because consuming alcohol in public was considered unmannerly. Ngiam saw this as an opportunity, so he created a feminine drink that looked like fruit juice. The cocktail eventually became socially acceptable and an instant hit. Peanuts are the Singapore Sling’s longtime companion, which are served in a wooden box. Feel free to throw the peanut shells on the floor; it’s a tradition that began as early as the drink itself.

The Singapore Sling is internationally known and is usually part of a travelers’ bucket list when visiting the country. Fans of the cocktail can visit Raffles Boutique to buy gifts inspired by the drink: magnets, posters, coaster sets, and even a flash drive! They also have a loose leaf tea version of the famous drink. Their bestseller is the Raffles Original Singapore Sling Glass, with a price tag of about $24. 

The Recipe from the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel

30 ml Gin

15 ml Cherry Heering

7.5 ml Dom Benedictine

7.5 ml Cointreau

120 ml Sarawak Pineapple Juice

15 ml Lime Juice

10 ml Grenadine

A dash of Angostura Bitters

Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry 

Jungle Bird

Drinkers choose beverages based on taste, price, and sometimes popularity. Equally important to a cocktail’s taste and presentation is its history. It was not very easy to find the original creator of the Jungle Bird. The first traceable record for the inventor of the drink is in John J. Poister’s The New American Bartender’s Guide published in 1989. It was said to be created at the Hilton’s Kuala Lumpur Aviary Bar in 1978. More information about the Jungle Bird was hard to find; it took journalist Kim Choong of Thirsty Mag three long articles to figure out the man behind the Malaysian drink. Finding the creator of the drink, the journalist needed to go back to where it originated and met Pirabakaran Arumugan, also known as Jason, who worked at the Hilton since it opened its doors.

Contrary to Poister’s record, Jungle Bird was served as a welcome drink at the hotel since 1973. The name refers to the birds that guests could see from the inside of the Aviary Lounge. Every Malaysian bartender knows Jungle Bird. Its rise to fame is sometimes attributed to Muhammad Ali. Jason was a personal butler to many notable personalities such as Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, and Shah Rukh Khan. The story of the drink and Ali’s connection seems to be untrue since the world boxing champion didn’t drink alcohol. True or not, this adds to the mystery of the cocktail. 

The most important question in searching for the man behind the Jungle Bar was, “Is he a Malaysian?” After a long quest of going to the new Kuala Lumpur Hotel in 2004, arranging an interview with the hotel, communicating with a Facebook group, and speaking with several key people who used to work at the hotel, Kim Choong finally found the answer: Jungle Bird was created by Jeffrey Ong—a Malaysian! He was the Beverage Manager at Hilton. This information was confirmed by David Hong, owner of Boutiq Wine and Hamid Harun, a hotel and bar consultant. Both men used to work at the hotel in the 1970s. 

More interesting stories about the cocktail emerged as the search went on. Jungle Bird today is served in a chilled hurricane glass and garnished with a pineapple wedge carefully cut to resemble a bird’s plumage. Former Hilton bartenders said it was different back then: the drink was served in a “ceramic bird vessel where the drink would be sipped from the opening at the tail.” 

 

Recipe (Hilton Kuala Lumpur) 

45ml Blackstrap Rum

20ml Campari

15ml Fresh Lime Juice

15ml Simple Syrup

45ml Pineapple Juice

 

Siam Sunray 

The youngest in our bunch of featured cocktails is from the Land of Smiles, Thailand. Siam Sunray, widely regarded as “Thailand in a Glass” was created by Surasak Phanthaisong, winner of the Thailand Signature Drinks Competition in 2008. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) ordered the creation of a drink that could boost the tourism industry of the country. It is common for world tourism capitals to have a signature drink: there’s The Big Apple’s Manhattan and the Cuban Mojito from Havana. The same was expected from the Siam Sunray, which is now readily available at many resorts, hotels, and bars around Thailand. 

 

Recipe 

30-40ml Smirnoff Vodka

30ml Coconut Liqueur

15ml Syrup

1 small Thai Chilli Pepper

3 slices Young Ginger

1 Kaffir Lime Leaf

3 slivers Lemon Grass

3 drops of Lime Juice

Soda Water

 

These are three cocktails that you can try at home. Pair them with appetizers such as hoisin glazed chicken, lettuce wraps, or dumplings to complete the theme. Level up your party hosting skills with a taste of Asia.  

 

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