Here's a Shirley Temple for grownups! We found that typical Dirty Shirleys are cloyingly sweet. Our version uses half the amount of grenadine as other versions and a lower-in-sugar ginger beer instead of ginger ale or lemon-lime soda for a refreshing drink.
In case you missed it, the Dirty Shirley is the drink of summer. But what exactly is a Dirty Shirley? And what's in it? Well, it's just like it sounds—a spiked take on the classic drink, made with grenadine, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale, and vodka.
It's unclear who first had the eureka moment to add booze to a Shirley Temple, but it appears to have started trending on TikTok as far back as fall 2021. Now the internet and social media are loaded with variations on the drink.
When we first set out to develop our version, we wanted to create one with less added sugar—a typical Dirty Shirley packs in 38 grams of the stuff, and that's just for one. (The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we limit consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of the calories we eat each day, or about 12 teaspoons or 48 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. The American Heart Association recommends even less—we'll just leave that to simmer.) And after tasting a typical recipe, we were more than happy to reduce it—we all found it to be way too sweet, with tasters noting they couldn't imagine finishing one.
The main sources of added sugar in the original drink are the grenadine and the soda. First, we tried swapping out the grenadine altogether—not only is it super sweet, but also we thought it would be nice if we could find an alternative that was made without food dyes.
Since grenadine is made from pomegranate juice, we gave pomegranate molasses a try. The color gave the drink a mahogany hue and didn't taste quite right with the soda, so we abandoned ship.
Next we tried pomegranate-cranberry juice. We found it wasn't flavorful enough in such a small amount, and when we added enough to taste it, the drink veered into Cape Codder territory. We tried a 50-50 mix of the juice and the molasses, but again, it wasn't quite right. So we decided to stick with grenadine but reduce it by half the typical amount.
Then it was time to tackle the soda. Shirley Temples can be made with ginger ale or lemon-lime sodas like Sprite. We decided to go in the former direction since there are some lower-in-sugar alternatives at most major supermarkets in the ginger beer and ginger ale category. Plus we liked the more nuanced flavor it gave to the drink. The full pour (8 ounces) was too sweet for our tasters, so we ended up using a 50-50 blend of lower-in-sugar ginger beer (see Tip) and seltzer.
We mixed one up again and tried it next to the typical recipe. And all the tasters found it to be much more drinkable—and with less than half the added sugar to boot (only 11 grams). Cheers!
We tested and analyzed this recipe with Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Ginger Beer— it's lower in added sugar so not as sweet as other ginger beers. Look for it with sodas or cocktail mixers at your supermarket. If you avoid food dyes, look for a brand of maraschino cherries without them, such as Mezzetta. You can even substitute the liquid from the jar for the grenadine, if you'd like.