The Dirty Shirley is an elevated, adult version of the classic Shirley Temple. Here's what we love about this fun, simple, anytime-anywhere kind of cocktail:
- So. Much. Nostalgia.
- 1 deliciously crowd pleasing drink for EVERYONE - Mix up a pitcher for the whole crowd and let the drinking adults in the group add their own vodka. Everyone else can happily sip on the non-alcoholic version, aka, the Shirley Temple.
- Perfect for all things summer: backyard BBQs, deck/ porch sitting, beaches, picnics.
- It goes without saying that this is the PERFECT drink for summer holiday gatherings like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Father's Day, and the 4th of July. But, honestly, I also really like to serve this on Thanksgiving.
I recently clicked on a New York Times food article that touted the Dirty Shirley as the "drink of the summer", and I'm just going to be honest here, it was the first I'd heard of it. I don't actually live under a rock, but sometimes you might think so. (I actually live in an RV, if you're curious about that sort of thing.)
Not that adding vodka to a Shirley Temple is somehow revolutionary. But it still struck me as a tremendously good idea. I went out and purchased the ingredients that very afternoon and have been making these delicious cocktails on the regular ever since.
Just like Pomegranate Margaritas and the iconic Aperol Spritz, the Dirty Shirley is a crowd-pleasing cocktail that is particularly drinkable in the summer.
Having said that, it's also the kind of thing that's perfect for big holiday gatherings (like Thanksgiving!) where you can mix up a gigantic batch and let the dinking adults in the group add their own vodka.
Technically speaking, a Dirty Shirley is 4 ingredients: vodka, grenadine, lemon lime soda, and maraschino cherries.
I wanted to take this drink up a notch in flavor and downplay some of the syrupy sweetness in a traditional Shirley Temple. To do that I added two more ingredients: lime juice and cherry juice.
So, here's what you'll need:
- Vodka. Obviously, the better the vodka, the better your Dirty Shirley. Regular vodka is fabulous, but you can also use cherry vodka for an even more intense cherry flavor.
- Unsweetened tart cherry juice. I wanted more real cherry flavor for my Dirty Shirley so I added some actual juice.
- Grenadine. Grenadine syrup is a cocktail mixer made from pomegranate juice and sugar. You can find it at most supermarkets and in nearly every liquor store. You can also make your own grenadine if you prefer. Or, if you're like me and consider pomegranate molasses an essential ingredient to have on hand at all times, you can simply mix equal amounts pomegranate molasses and water and use that.
- Fresh lime juice. The Shirley Temple is a sweet drink, verging on sickly sweet. I wanted to add some balance. A bit of tart lime juice in combination with tart cherry juice does the trick without messing up the essential qualities of this drink.
- Lemon lime soda. Any kind of lemon lime soda will do. I like to use Sprite Zero Sugar.
- Maraschino cherries and lime wedges for garnish. Maraschino cherries are essential, lime wedges are optional.
*See recipe card below for precise quantities.
How to Make a Dirty Shirley
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Step #1: Add some ice cubes to a glass.
Step #2: Pour in an ounce or two of vodka.
Step #3: Add an ounce each of cherry juice, grenadine syrup, and lime juice.
Step #4: Top with lemon lime soda.
Step #5: Garnish with a wedge of lime and some maraschino cherries.
I nearly always feel that drink garnishes are fabulous but optional. But, in this case, a few maraschino cherries are really essential to what a Dirty Shirley is meant to be.
I mean... I don't even like maraschino cherries but I still add them to my Dirty Shirley.
What kind of glass should you use to serve Dirty Shirley cocktails? Whatever kind of glass you want! This is one of those fun, casual cocktails for which there should be no stuffy rules. I like to serve this drink in wine glasses, as you can see in the photos here. But, you can serve the Dirty Shirley in any kind of glass your heart desires.
How to Make Dirty Shirley Cocktails and Mocktails for a Crowd
The Dirty Shirley is a fantastic cocktail to serve on occasions when you’re hosting a group of all ages that includes drinkers and non-drinkers. Simply leave out the vodka for the kids or non-drinkers in the group.
When hosting a group, I like to write the recipe on a note card or small chalk board, set all the ingredients out, and then let everyone make their own. This allows each individual to adjust their cocktail (or mocktail) to their own preferences.
To simplify things a bit, I usually mix the base of the cocktail in a large pitcher. Use equal amounts of these ingredients:
- Tart Cherry Juice
- Grenadine Syrup
- Lime Juice
Instruct guests to pour a few ounces of the cocktail base into their glass and then add as much or as little vodka and lemon lime soda as they like.
Variations on the Dirty Shirley
Like most cocktails, there's an endless number of ways to switch up the Dirty Shirley. Here are just a few ideas:
- Add some orange. The flavor of grenadine includes a subtle hint of orange. Cherry and orange is a fantastic flavor combination, so play it up by adding a splash of orange liquor, a bit of fresh orange juice, or an orange peel garnish.
- Use gin instead of vodka. Gin and vodka are interchangeable in most cocktails, and the Dirty Shirley is on exception. I actually prefer gin over vodka in this cocktail because the gin adds another layer of flavor that helps balance all the sugary sweetness.
- Use real cherries. Instead of cherry juice, dump a few whole, pitted cherries into a glass and muddle them with some lime juice. (Muddle simply means to mash the ingredients together in a glass.)
- Add fresh mint! A few sprigs of fresh mint adds a refreshing summer twist to this drink!
- Use lemon juice instead of lime juice. I did this the other night when we had guests over on a particularly warm summer evening and called it "cherry vodka lemonade".
- Swap in ginger ale for the lemon lime soda. Using ginger ale instead of lemon lime soda creates a distinct but subtle difference in the flavor profile for this drink that somehow tastes a bit more grown up. If a tiny bit more sophisticated is what you're going for, ginger ale will help get you there.
- Use pomegranate juice instead of cherry juice. Grenadine is made from pomegranate juice, so subbing in some actual pomegranate juice instead of cherry juice is an obvious way to switch things up a bit. (If you're a pomegranate fan, you might also like this pomegranate ginger spritzer!)
Recipes that Pair Well with a Dirty Shirley
The best kinds of foods to serve with a Dirty Shirley are casual and uncomplicated. This drink lends itself particularly well to cookouts and summer outdoorsy types of occasions. It's a no-brainer for 4th of July gatherings.
Here are a few suggestions for the types of food you might want to serve with this cocktail:
The Dirty Shirley makes a great camping recipe! This cocktail requires just a few ingredients, can easily be adapted to serve drinkers and non-drinkers of all ages, and is happily sipped from a plastic cup. Looking for more camping cocktail recipes? Here's a list of 21 Cocktails for Camping.
Dirty Shirley Cocktail Recipe
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce unsweetened tart cherry juice
- 1 ounce grenadine
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 4 ounces lemon lime soda
- Maraschino cherries and lime wedges for garnish
- Fill a glass with ice and pour the vodka over the ice.
- Pour in the cherry juice, grenadine and lime juice.
- Top with lemon lime soda and stir.
- Garnish with maraschino cherries and a lime wedge.
Variations on the Dirty Shirley Cocktail:
- Add some orange liquor, a bit of fresh orange juice, or an orange peel garnish.
- Use gin instead of vodka.
- Instead of cherry juice, dump a few whole, pitted cherries into a glass and muddle them with some lime juice.
- A few sprigs of fresh mint adds a refreshing summer twist to this drink!
- Use lemon juice instead of lime juice.
- Swap in ginger ale for the lemon lime soda.
- Use pomegranate juice instead of cherry juice.
More delicious, crowd-pleasing cocktails:
Serving Size:1 drink
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 279Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 39mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 0gSugar: 30gProtein: 0g
Amy Liu Dong says
This drink has a pretty color, and it looks delicious.
I am going to make this for my sister's birthday.