Joel Lee Kulp has always been enamored with the backstory of a good drink, and a drink with a bit of mystery serves as his summer standby. Kulp, a co-owner of Grand Ferry Tavern (229 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-782-8500), opts for a Singapore sling when he’s in need of a classic cocktail.
“First off, the Singapore sling is a fantastic drink,” Kulp says. “It’s summer, it’s a great drink on a hot day, and you’ve got a lot of gin in there. It goes down a lot easier than you think. It’s extremely festive.”
A veteran of Keith McNally’s Cafe Luxembourg and Pastis, Kulp came to New York by way of Pittsburgh with an honest curiosity about cocktails and spirits. “When I started [drinking], I actually became interested in why things taste a certain way. What is a bourbon? Why do I like this one more than that one? It was when I first started working at a restaurant that I could ask people questions and they had answers.”
Kulp’s curiosity about the Singapore sling’s original recipe — which differs depending on who you speak to — serves as a creative spark. Though the drink’s inception is universally associated with the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, years of modification by inventive bartenders across the globe have added more twists and turns than the discarded lemon peels used for the drink.
“The first time anybody said anything to me about a Singapore sling was Dale DeGroff,” Kulp recalls. “We were opening Pastis. The drink he had us make was not the drink that we’re making [at Grand Ferry Tavern].” DeGroff’s version calls for pineapple juice, whereas Gary Regan’s recipe does not. Regan’s is the one Kulp was inspired to use at Grand Ferry. “Ours is sort of an amalgamation, in a way. I’ve never had anybody not like the drink, but I have had people tell me that it is not a Singapore sling,” Kulp explains.
Outside of historical debates, one of the components Kulp finds challenging about serving the drink is changing people’s perception of cherries. “It sounds sweeter than it is. People get scared by cherries sometimes; they have an association with childhood cough syrup,” the barman notes.
With the addition of benedictine to provide herbal notes of honey, clove, and other spices, mixed with the botanical elements of gin, the drink is neither sour nor sweet, but balanced. Below, Kulp shares his recipe for home bartenders looking for a classic summer cocktail.
Singapore Sling by Joel Lee Kulp
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz benedictine
.5 oz Orchard Cherry Liqueur
1.75 oz City of London gin
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake ingredients over ice. Strain into a collins glass (pictured above). Add fresh ice and a splash of soda to top off. Garnish with a lemon wedge.