Can The Dirty Shirley Actually Become The Drink Of Summer?

The Dirty Shirley quickly assumed headlines as the drink of summer 2022. But with its ingredients that go against all contemporary industry trends, can the high-ABV, sugar-fueled cocktail make it past Memorial Day?

According to New York Times cooking reporter, Becky Hughes, the answer is yes.

“Like most things in pop culture, drink tastes swing back and forth — when there are trends like low-abv spirits, low-cal cocktails and low-intervention wines, it’s inevitable that an opposite trend will pop up as a reaction,” Hughes told Forbes.

The Dirty Shirley is built in the same way as the fluorescent cherry soda drink giddily enjoyed by children, mixing grenadine with lemon-lime soda (like Sprite or 7Up) — known as the Shirley Temple — then spiked with your preferred spirit. Hughes opts for vodka in her recipe, denoting its neutrality, however, she says she’s also made it with tequila, rum and recognizes that some people may even choose gin.

“The Dirty Shirley is not low-anything — it’s bright and sweet and fairly boozy,” emphasized Hughes about what makes this counterculture cocktail so unique, and may just provide it the edge to rise to the ranks of the espresso martini of summer 2021 or the Aperol Spritz of summer 2020 (though some would argue, the spritz isn’t going out of style anytime soon).

“The espresso martini trend of last summer came right alongside the ’90s resurgence in fashion and pop culture,” said Hughes, continuing: “I see the Dirty Shirley the same way: as 2000s nostalgia proliferates (‘indie sleaze,’ as it’s been called in the fashion world), it stands to reason that an extremely ’00s-feeling drink would become popular now.” Hughes draws the comparison that most 90s babies might not want to recognize: those in their mid-20s were drinking regular Shirley Temples in the early aughts — now they’re adults, she adds, hence the addition of alcohol.

With Hughes’ nostalgic reasoning, it’s no wonder the Dirty Shirley is resonating with millennials, bringing back the carefree mentality of youth, where carbs and calories and fake sugar didn’t matter, as long as it tasted good. It relates back to comfort, Hughes suggests. “There’s a lot of comfort to be found in the food and drink choices we make, and comfort is paramount in this still-not-post-pandemic period; people are looking for nostalgia everywhere they can.”

As for whether the Dirty Shirley can truly become the reigning cocktail of the summer, Hughes argues it doesn’t matter, concluding: “It’s going to be the summer of drinking whatever tastes good to you — and for some people, I think that’ll be the Dirty Shirley.”


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