The espresso martini’s 15 minutes of fame are up: Summer 2022 is all about the Dirty Shirley. According to The New York Times, the nostalgic drink is gaining traction across the city, boring vodka sodas be damned, and we anticipate it going far beyond the Big Apple as summer unfolds. We asked Derek Brown, director of education for Spiritless and author of Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails, to weigh in on the trend and offer his tips for concocting the ultimate Dirty Shirley (or Shirley Temple) at home.
The Dirty Shirley Is the (Un)Official Drink of Summer 2022—Here’s How to Make One
What Is A Dirty Shirley?
In short, it’s a boozy Shirley Temple. Just as unabashedly saccharine as its namesake, the drink consists of either ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a shot of vodka. (Maraschino cherries are technically non-essential to the cocktail, but we can’t imagine why you’d skip them.)
NYT chalked the Dirty Shirley’s popularity up to a myriad of things: millennials bringing the charms of suburbia back to the metropolis after sheltering at their parents’ houses during the pandemic; the early aughts coming back into fashion; finding comfort in nostalgia while the world crumbles around us, and, our personal favorite, a renewed, post-ironic love for chain restaurants, like Olive Garden, that are cornerstones of many small towns.
Brown thinks the reasoning could be even simpler. “I think we can attribute the Dirty Shirley to the fact people love highballs and innuendo,” he says. “For better or worse, our drink choices aren’t always about sophistication…Mixology might as well be an advanced degree: We’ve studied the science, history, classification and lore of cocktails. That’s amazing for people like me, who nerd out on it. But an old mentor of mine was quick to remind me, cocktails are fun. Maybe it’s that simple: The drink is fun.”
He also notes that social media and a drink’s viral popularity makes it a likely choice for undecided bargoers. (On that note, he also thinks the piña colada is overdue for a resurgence, so we’ll just leave the O.G. recipe right here…)
What Is A Shirley Temple?
Named for the darling child actress (who denied her part in the drink’s invention, BTW) of the 1930s, the Shirley Temple was originally a mix of ginger ale and grenadine crowned with a maraschino cherry and lemon wedge. Legend has it that Temple was dining at Chasen’s—a now-defunct West Hollywood restaurant that was frequented by celebrities of the era—and wanted a specialty drink she could enjoy. In time, restaurants came to offer the sipper to kids on the regular. It became a glamorous alternative to standard cola, offering plenty of juveniles a taste of stardom (or the illusion of it, at least). We’ve since ditched the lemon wedge, often in favor of lemon-lime soda, which makes for a sweeter Shirley than ginger ale.
If you ask Brown, the Shirley Temple has endured as a beloved mocktail over nearly a century thanks to three perks: “[It’s] easy to make, has a catchy name and the ingredients are readily available behind a bar.” There’s also no doubt that non-alcoholic spirits have been having quite the moment, snowballing since summer 2021.
“People are growing more concerned about the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of drinking alcohol,” says Brown. “We’ve had a lot of time to sit with this in the past couple of years, and a lot of us have concluded that we want to cut down on drinking alcohol, but we still love the ritual and social aspects of drinking. There were also people already who didn’t drink for whatever reason…and they’re finally finding a spot at the bar.”
How To Make A Better Dirty Shirley (or Shirley Temple)
You may remember sipping Sprite-based Shirleys as a kid, but ginger ale definitely makes for a more nuanced bev than lemon-lime soda. Brown recommends using one with a little bite or even upping the ante with ginger syrup. (He helped create one called Horse’s Kick that can be easily mixed with soda water.)
Your next important choice is the grenadine. You may be wondering what that scarlet stunner is exactly. Grenadine is a sweet cocktail mixer made from pomegranate juice that’s reduced with sugar until syrupy (despite many bargoers assuming it’s cherry flavored, a misconception we’ll at least partially credit the Shirley Temple with creating), although many you’ll find on shelves are mostly corn syrup and artificial color. It’s widely available, but don’t just choose the first one you see. “A quality grenadine makes a huge difference,” notes Brown. “Don’t buy the cheap stuff. Liber & Co. makes a really good one and so does Small Hand Foods.”
As for the liquor, most Dirty Shirley drinkers spike their drink with an ounce or two of vodka, since its neutral flavor pairs with just about anything. Cherry vodka would also be a solid choice, but Brown suggests trying something more unusual, like shōchū, a distilled Japanese spirit that can be made from rice, barley, buckwheat and other ingredients. “Shōchū can be more flavorful than vodka and [contains] less alcohol, keeping the drink low alcohol,” he explains.
An Easy Dirty Shirley Recipe
- 1 to 2 ounces vodka (cherry vodka, gin and shōchū would also work)
- 1 ounce grenadine
- Ginger ale (or lemon-lime soda)
- Maraschino cherries, for garnish
Step 1: Fill a highball or pint glass with ice. Add the vodka and grenadine to the glass and stir.
Step 2: Fill the glass to the top with ginger ale. Garnish with as many cherries as your heart desires.