Why the Dirty Shirley Is Decidedly the Drink of the Summer
The perfect summer beverage should capture the essence of the season—fun, colorful, refreshing—and the internet has officially decided that, for 2022, that drink is the Dirty Shirley. (If you ask Alexa what the drink of the summer is, she agrees. Seriously.) An alcoholic spin on the classic Shirley Temple, the Dirty Shirley is a cocktail traditionally made with vodka, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale, grenadine (which gives it that show stopping color), and a maraschino cherry.
The New York Times published an article raising the question in May, and the hashtag #dirtyshirley now has 10.6 million views on TikTok. Start scrolling, and you'll find a flood of videos showing people making the drink, making jokes about it, or sipping on it. Search for the Dirty Shirley, and you'll see a slew of articles arguing for and against the drink (and even a few teaching you how to make it). Like it or not, the Dirty Shirley is everywhere, and we're breaking down the build-up to its viral status, how to make the drink, and a tasty variation on the traditional version.
Dirty Shirley's Climb to Popularity
Before the Dirty Shirley became something you had to be 21 to order, it was a drink for kids known as the Shirley Temple. Named after the acclaimed 1930s child actor (who denied any association with the beverage), the Shirley Temple's bright pink-red color and super sweet flavor make it no surprise that kids have been happily ordering it for decades now.
Some theorize that childhood throwback is one of the reasons the adult version has risen in popularity lately: Gen Z and Millennials who enjoyed the mocktail when they were younger are exploring alcoholic options and getting nostalgic. The Dirty Shirley craze follows the popularity of the 2021 summer drink, the espresso martini—a complete 180 in taste and appearance. After a year of sipping those, it makes sense that we want something different.
The Dirty Shirley's popularity could also be a result of the longing for comfort and enjoyment we're feeling in response to the hardships of the last few years. The popularity of decor with a focus on fun (re: maximalism, retro mirrors, pastel accents) and over-the-top dining out experiences in 2022 reflect a desire for joy and playfulness, and there's nothing more playful than a Dirty Shirley.
How to Make a Dirty Shirley
According to Juli Hale, senior culinary specialist in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen, the traditional Shirley Temple recipe includes lemon-lime soda or ginger ale, grenadine, and a maraschino cherry. The Dirty Shirley just adds a shot of booze. Often it's vodka, but you can opt for tequila, rum, or gin. "Choose your white spirit," Hale advises. Another plus to adding alcohol (on top of the obvious): It helps tone down the excessive sweetness.
To make a Dirty Shirley, pour 1 ½ oz vodka (or your spirit of choice), ¾ oz grenadine, and 4 to 6 oz soda or ginger ale in an ice-filled glass. Stir and top with a cherry (or two).
Try the Ambassador Shirley Temple Cocktail
For Dirty Shirley skeptics, Hale's variation on the Dirty Shirley, the Ambassador (the name refers to Shirley Temple's work as a U.S. ambassador), might be just the drink to change your mind. There are a few key differences: tequila instead of vodka, a homemade chile-infused grenadine, ginger beer, and Italian Luxardo maraschino cherries. Using ginger beer is "more bitey" than ginger ale, Hale says, which gives it more flavor, and Luxardo cherries add a sense of elevation.
"Making grenadine from scratch is both very easy and much fresher and more delicious than the bottled stuff," Hale says. "Adding some chile spice is what sets this one apart, and it's a good match for the tequila."
Give the Dirty Shirley and the Ambassador a try—you may soon agree that twists on the classic Shirley Temple will be everywhere this summer.