Gin sling. What a suggestive cocktail name. If it evokes the image of tossing back a drink, you’re not far from the truth, as it has been surmised that the gin sling drink stems from the German verb schlingen. This little story dates far back into American Cocktail History, as an article from the New York Times on July 15, 1883 states:
as regards gin sling, if there be any foundation for the supposition that the word “sling” is derived from the German “schlingen,” to gulp or swallow hastily, the transatlantic sling may have originally been a “short” drink or dram.
But back to the important stuff. What is in a Gin Sling?
Most recipes floating out there on the internet that are just plain wrong. Gin slings don’t have vermouth. And they certainly don’t have bitters, nor grenadine. Please, don’t mix this baby up with a Singapore sling. That pink drink is something different altogether.
According to all the old-timey manuals, Gin Slings are made from gin, a lump of sugar, and a few gratings of nutmeg. It may sound unusual today, but this was one of the most popular American drinks for nearly 100 years.
Here’s a classic gin sling recipe.
2 ounces of gin
tablespoon of sugar
handful of ice
freshy grated nutmeg
Directions: In a short glass add the sugar and pour over the gin. Stir to mix. Add some ice, and grate some nutmeg on top.
It is rare to see a gin sling served in a bar today, but it couldn’t be simpler. It was also popularly imbibed warm, as a Hot Gin Sling. Indeed, slings are related to toddies. For some reason toddi
es are well remembered today as hot drinks, but the good ol slings are not.
Hot Gin Sling
To make the Hot Gin Sling, follow the above recipe. But rather than ice, top off your gin sling with nearly boiling water. Garnish with a few gratings nutmeg. An orange slice or lemon slice wouldn’t be out of place here.
Gin Slings and the Birth of American Culture
In Post-Revolutionary America, Gin Slings were held up to be quintessentially “American.” Like all early cocktails, gin slings stood in the middle of a heated political debate about what exactly America was. The Gin Sling and other Cocktails were vehemently understood as American Inventions (some of the first so called American Inventions) and others understood them as merely remixes of Old World culinary culture, rediscovered, altered and adapted to the new world.
For instance, in this small bit published in the Boston Globe on August 13 1873, titled American Cookery, Its Position in the Future the Gin Sling and its merry mates the cobbler, sour and smash were seen as Stalwarts against the sauce boat of of France and all its delicacies, the food of Germany and the cuisine of England.
Here’s a snippet from the article, it is too amusing not to cite this large chunk, in which the author imagines the Pope sipping Gin Slings, and doctors in France prescribing Mint Juleps.
“A Frenchman taunted America with having a hundred religions and only one gravy. We tell France, England and Germany that we are the only nation which has invented a new drink in one hundred years. Herein we point out to effete monarchies the blessing of republican institutions. Call it, if you are a pedant, caudagalli; if you are a German Hahnschwanz; if a Frenchman, queue de coq – the cocktail is American of the Americans. This is our bibulous chef-d’oeuvre; but the generic terms of “cobbler,” “sour,” “sling” and “smash” attest what the Emperor of Austria, the other day termed the “distinctive intellectual feature of American handicraft. An Englsihman once said that we Americans could not make beer because we “adu’t got the ‘ops, you know.” We can tell Englishmen they did not invent any of these delectable beverages, because they “aven’t got the hice.” Happy ino ur position, we look forward to the time when the French cook shall try to mend his broken Endglish with a savelier du Xeres, when His Holiness the Pope will order his sancta cruz aspera as he hears of fresh trials for his church, and will never hurl a bull of excommunication without first taking his Balista Geneva – a stout and sunning gin sling. The French Patriot will mourn his distracted nation over an eau de vie en smithereens, and the old-fashioned doctor with prescribe zulapium menthe where we would take a soul- perfuming mint julep.“
Cocktails and American Ingenuity
This view of American culinary development on the world stage, as part of American identity and ingenuity did not go unchallenged. Some entrepreneurial-minded Americans traveled to Europe on extensive tours to expand the reach of these American inventions, such as a Mr. Pulanski from Pittsburgh who traveled to Paris in the late 1800s to promote the gin-sling, the sherry cobbler and the mint julep (see The Washington Post, July 8 1893), these expansionary assertions of American identity met resistance on the other side of the pond.
Europe’s Classic Cocktails?
An article in the New York Times (July 15 1883), reprinted from the London Telegraph, vividly argues that gin slings have existed in England for at least 80 years, “but always as ‘long’ drinks. In the states they are not necessarily so.” The same article defends the European origins of egg nog, mint juleps, sherry cobblers, etc etc. The author rallies the point that America is a land of adaptation, not invention, as he ends with the cry that “Native American Drinks than as importations from the land which invented ‘Bandminton’ and the Duke of Norfolk’s milk punch.”
One could in fact argue today that it was America’s ingenuity at adaption and reformulation that made Classic Cocktails American, and America — America.