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The Dirty Shirley: A New Cocktail Classic

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

Well, technically, the drink isn’t named after Anne Shirley.

You know, the Anne 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.

dirty shirley cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

But 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.

Instead, she will probably wax rhapsodic over the sickly sweet scarlet concoction that every bartender worth his suspenders could whip up in a pinch for the underage set.

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.

dirty shirley cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

dirty shirley cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

dirty shirley cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

Candied maraschino cherries are the traditional garnish, and they always add a bit of whimsy to a cocktail.

But if you’re averse to the unnatural hue and willing to buck tradition just a bit, here’s a grown-up substitute.

Dirty Shirley cocktail ingredient illustration
Illustration: Casey Barber

Sour cherries bring in a hint of contrast to go with the sweet-on-sweet flavors of the Dirty Shirley.

Grab a handful 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.

dirty shirley cocktail

With the Heering and homemade grenadine, the Dirty Shirley will be a less shockingly neon cocktail and more of a delicate rose hue.

That sounds like just the sort of color that Anne Shirley would swoon over in the blossoms of her beloved apple and cherry trees.

Just don’t drink too many before dinner!

dirty shirley cocktail

The Dirty Shirley

Yield: 2 drinks
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Adding booze to a Shirley Temple, that childhood favorite that's a mix of grenadine and soda, makes it a Dirty Shirley. But you can make it even better.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 fluid ounces (3 tablespoons) vodka
  • 3/4 fluid ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) grenadine
  • 1/2 fluid ounce (1 tablespoon) cherry Heering liqueur
  • 1 12-ounce can 7-Up
  • 4-6 maraschino cherries or soaked sour cherries

Instructions

  1. Fill two old-fashioned glasses or small (6 oz. or less) juice glasses with ice.
  2. Pour the vodka, grenadine, and cherry Heering into a large glass or shaker. Stir well to combine, then divide between the two small glasses.
  3. Top each small glass with 7-Up and stir to mix, although it’s always a little fun to leave it un-stirred so you see the two layers of pale pink and deep red.
  4. Garnish with at least two cherries. Remember the mean bartenders and servers who would never let you have extra cherries as a kid? Don’t be those guys.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 205Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 22mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 2gSugar: 37gProtein: 1g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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