The Bar Cart: The Dirty Shirley

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on February 25, 2013

“I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.” —Anne Shirley

Though the drink isn’t named after Anne Shirley, she who lived at Green Gables and accidentally got her bosom friend Diana Barry drunk on forbidden currant wine after mistaking it for the sanctioned raspberry cordial, I love to think of a Shirley Temple as a modern version of Anne’s favorite treat. Just say the name “Shirley Temple” to a full-grown woman and chances are she won’t think of the ringlet-haired child star of the early 20th century, but instead will wax rhapsodic over the sickly sweet scarlet concoction that every bartender worth his suspenders could whip up in a pinch for the underage set.

dirty shirley, shirley temple cocktail
Typically a mix of Rose’s grenadine and 7-Up or ginger ale, a Shirley Temple isn’t a complex drink. Its taste and color makes it a slam-dunk with younger palates, but, like Matchbox cars and Care Bears, it’s something we grow out of as we move on to real cocktails with more sophisticated layers of flavor. Even starter drinks like whiskey sours and amaretto sours add a hint of bitter and tart to a sugary base.

When adding booze to a Shirley Temple, the Dirty Shirley, as it’s commonly called, keeps things equally straightforward. No citrus, bitters, brown liquors, or other flourishes of flavor are added to the sugary drink. Vodka, that high-octane tabula rasa, typically does the trick. But if we’re going to the trouble of mixing up a drink like a proper adult, I can think of a few ways to make it even better.

Cherry Heering, the sweet but refined liqueur last seen playing against the taste of coffee-infused porter in the winter beer cocktail The Good Cheer, adds depth to the drink. (Luxardo, the Italian liqueur used for maraschino cherries, can be used too, but I find it’s got less complexity than the dark, rich Heering.)

In the same vein, homemade grenadine syrup brings more complexity to what would otherwise be straightforward sweetness. A quick reduction of real pomegranate juice and sugar, a small batch can be ready in 15 minutes and takes the cocktail firmly from the land of childhood into the realm of more adult tipples.

dirty shirley, shirley temple cocktail
Candied maraschino cherries are the traditional garnish, but if you’re averse to the unnatural hue—and if you’re willing to buck tradition just a bit and bring in a hint of sour to go with the sweet-on-sweet flavors of the drink—here’s an grown-up substitute. Grab a handful of sour cherries from the freezer (from the cherries you picked over the summer, yes?) and soak them in 1/4-1/3 cup of the grenadine syrup overnight. They won’t lose their sour edge, but will take on a maraschino-esque flavor that mellows them slightly.

With the Heering, homemade grenadine, and ruddy sour cherries, the end result will be a less shockingly neon cocktail and more of a delicate rose hue—just the sort of color that Anne Shirley would swoon over in the blossoms of her beloved apple and cherry trees. Don’t drink too many before dinner.

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