It’s happened to everyone. You order a drink at a bar because you think the drink is funny. You laugh with your friends and how ridiculous it is, but then you take a sip and it’s… not bad. Oh no, you think to yourself, do I have to order this again? Afraid of being laughed out of the bar, you run to your nearest influencer friend. “Put this on TikTok, stat!” you scream. Before you know it, you’ve manipulated the culture, and everyone is drinking your cursed cocktail so much so that bar owners are telling The New York Times that it’s the drink of the summer. At least, we can only assume that’s how the latest viral mixed drink, the Dirty Shirley, rose to prominence so quickly.
But I’m here to tell you that there are better drinks out there, ones that can offer you more than the Dirty Shirley can. You don’t have to fall prey to this saccharine, headache-inducing cocktail trend. You don’t have to drink Dirty Shirleys—at least not the way TikTok is recommending that you make them. Let us explain.
The Shirley Temple is one of the most famous mocktails, its origins dating back to the 1930s. The most classic recipe is a mix of ginger ale, grenadine, and maraschino cherries (with the option to add a dash of lime juice). It has since evolved to use lime-lemon soda (your Sprites and Sierra Mists), which is an even slightly more sweet and syrupy soda.
While there are few concrete stories about its invention, it can be assumed that it was named after the child star because only children would be able to tolerate something so overtly sugary. It certainly wasn’t because Shirley Temple herself gave her blessing—in fact, she sued two separate companies who wanted to bottle the drink under her namesake and won.
Meanwhile, the Dirty Shirley, according to this TikTok with more than six million views, contains Sprite, grenadine, maraschino cherries, and vodka—in short, a bad hangover waiting to happen. Temple died in 2014, but we can only imagine she would have fired up another lawsuit to remove her name from this abomination.
I only have one memory of drinking vodka and Sprite. I was in college visiting the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and ended up in a 19+ bar as a 19-year-old, searching for older students to buy me drinks. My friend finally cornered a man to order us vodka Sprites and keep ’em coming. She said it was the only drink she could think of in the split-second she had to offer up an option. I’ve never thrown up more from drinking in my life.
It might be that these super-sweet drinks are returning because during the pandemic, many city dwellers retreated to the suburbs and more rural areas where bars were playing it a little more fast and loose with COVID protocols, bar owner Ashwin Deshmukh tells The New York Times, and while people were drinking there they fell back into the habits of their earlier years, i.e. getting cocktails loaded with so much grenadine and cherries that you can’t taste the alcohol.
The Dirty Shirley exists as an emotional support cocktail as we return to the “real” world. Even if it’s too sweet for some tastes, people have learned to love the Dirty Shirley because it reminds them of a simpler time. I don’t want to rip away a millennial pacifier, but I can offer up some options for weening ourselves off of it—trust me, all that sweetness will catch up to you eventually.
For a simple but effective swap to improve the Dirty Shirley, turn to our friends at Lifehacker, who are all for spiking a Shirley Temple so long as you switch out the Sprite for plain soda water. Simply getting rid of that sugary pop will do wonders for brightening up this cocktail, making it perfect for summer sipping.
If you love the Dirty Shirley mostly for the cherry and grenadine, you have plenty of other choices that use both:
And if you can’t let go of your Sprite (I don’t get it, but I’ll allow it), there are some more balanced cocktails you can add to your repertoire:
Now these are some drinks that Shirley might be able to get behind. Quick, get them trending on TikTok ASAP.