How The 'Dirty Shirley' Became Summer's Must-Have Drink

Flavor profiles notwithstanding, some would argue that a traditional Shirley Temple shares several qualities with a dirty martini, minus the booze: It's timeless, ubiquitous, classy, and refreshing all year long. In its simplest form, the drink is made with Sprite or ginger ale mixed with ruby-red grenadine syrup on the rocks, topped with a maraschino cherry that is ideally fished from the bottom of the glass and eaten with great relish at the very end.

While the Shirley Temple is widely referred to as the "original mocktail" — after all, it was named after the child actress of the same name, per NPR — it seems to be making a splash in the adult beverage world as the latest trendy sipper. Its vodka-spiked version goes by the name Dirty Shirley, and according to The New York Times, you can expect to see it on cocktail menus just about everywhere this summer — including the one in your own home, because it's very easy to make.

Suburban nostalgia + vodka = Dirty Shirley

What is it about this current moment in time that's propelling the Dirty Shirley into viral popularity? According to Ashwin Deshmukh (the co-founder of the New York City bar Short Stories, who's heavily featured in Becky Hughes' aforementioned New York Times article), a certain cohort of city-dwelling imbibers are feeling nostalgic after spending so much time on the quiet streets of their childhood homes during the pandemic. "I really believe it's the drink of the summer in New York City because everyone's back and they're bringing their post-suburban ironic taste with them," he said. 

"There's been a notable influx of new restaurants in New York that evoke the feeling of chain restaurants and suburban living," Hughs writes, adding that this trend fits right in with the ongoing revival of early-aughts fashion. 

Taking cues from The Times and the millions of people watching Dirty Shirley tutorials on TikTok right now, BuzzFeed's Pernell Quilon hopped on the trend yesterday to try out the vodka-spiked refreshment. "The Dirty Shirley is delightful and dangerous," Quilon said upon his first sip, referring to the fact that the taste of vodka was nearly undetectable. "These are the kinds of cocktails that will leave you with a headache the morning after," he warns. If you decide to order a Dirty Shirley on your next trip to the bar, you'd be wise to get a side of fries as well. 

Some may appreciate a simple swap

Yes, everyone is talking about the Dirty Shirley — even Ryan Seacrest. In an Instagram clip posted by the On Air With Ryan Seacrest account, the "American Idol" host can be heard talking about the trending cocktail, and he sounds pretty excited about it. The caption reads, "The drink of the summer is here!" In the podcast episode, Seacrest is chatting with co-host Sisanie, along with a third party, who all agree that the drink is delicious, but might have too much sugar for their liking.

The trio discusses an easy fix for this sweet problem, which is simply swapping out the Sprite for seltzer. One 12 oz can of Sprite has 38 grams of sugar while seltzer, as reported by Healthline, contains zero sugar. If you're craving a Dirty Shirley but want to avoid the sugar high that it might invoke, this switch may be the answer. And although it's straying a bit from the classic Shirley Temple recipe, if you add a bit of lemon and lime juice to your dirty version, you might not even be missing that Sprite at all.

The Dirty Shirley is not a new cocktail

People may be calling the Dirty Shirley the "latest buzz-worthy cocktail trend," but this isn't the first time you might have heard of this drink. Real Housemoms posted about the adult beverage back in 2015 calling it "an easy cocktail to entertain with or just to relax with at the end of the day." In 2018 the Tipsy Bartender posted a Dirty Shirley recipe to YouTube, captioning it "This spiked Shirley Temple uses vodka to make it boozy but still sweet and refreshing!" 

You might be one of the millions of viewers currently scavenging the trending #DirtyShirley on TikTok, but Instagram users have been posting about this drink, including varied versions, for quite some time. A quick search of the same hashtag will have you scrolling back years' worth of nearly 12,000 Dirty Shirley posts. Even the Instagram post by On Air With Ryan Seacrest prompted one user to comment "I've known about these and have drank them since 2009."

One thing we are wondering about, however, is considering the popularity and media coverage now surrounding the Twisted Shirley Temple, is this state ready to switch up its favorite cocktail?