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The Dirty Shirley Is Too Sweet. Here Are 2 (Good) Spins on the 'Sip of the Summer'

The viral drink of the summer is, well, bad. Here are some versions of the Dirty Shirley you'll actually want to make.

cocktail on table with cherry soda can
I think we can all do better than a spiked Shirley Temple.
David Watsky/CNET

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

The Dirty Shirley has been dubbed the sip of the summer. While it may have one of the best names of any viral summer drink in recent memory, it's simply not very drinkable for most of us. The boozy Shirley Temple is about as basic as cocktails get -- oh, and did I mention it's too sweet? Well, it's too sweet. Much too sweet. 

What is a Dirty Shirley?

If you're not in the know, the Dirty Shirley went viral recently, but it's difficult to figure why. The simple Shirley Temple (Sprite and grenadine cherry syrup) got spiked with booze and began taking the socials by storm, much like the whipped lemonades and Aperol Spritzes of seasons past. Unlike the more balanced Aperol Spritz, this year's drink du summer is blisteringly sweet (a can of Sprite has 52 grams of sugar) and offers very little nuance. 

In short, the Dirty Shirley is not good. 

The good news is that the base flavors aren't bad, and so with a little tinkering, we just might be able to save this year's cursed viral summer sipper. I donned an apron and my best mixologist's scally cap to shake up something just as simple with a similar profile but more complexity and far less sugar.

@alexa99 "Surely there's drink of the summer?" Yes there is, and don't call me Shirley. #dirtyshirley#cocktail#drinkofthesummer#cocktails#vodka#alexa99#drinks#drink#cocktailtok♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

The Diet Dirty Shirley

The first and most obvious edit to the original was to sub in Diet Sprite. I tried this, but I'm just not an aspartame person, so the "Diet Dirty Shirley" went straight into the dud bucket, as I predicted it might. 

Soda water to the rescue?

Next, I tried half Sprite and half soda water with a splash of cherry syrup. This was less sweet, of course, and a bit better but still boring and not something I'd care to have more than a few sips of.

Finally, I called in the big guns in the form of two excellent alt soda brands that recently splashed into the market. Olipop and United Sodas of America make less sweet, gussied-up and mostly natural versions of classic sodas. While neither offers a lemon-lime flavor, Olipop makes a Lemon-Ginger tonic ($38 for a 12-pack) and United Sodas, a Cherry Pop ($35 for a 12-pack). 

I've tasted both before and figured one or both might result in something better.

Dirty Shirley recipe spin No. 1

For the first Dirty Shirley, I called on the Olipop Lemon Ginger tonic which has just 30 calories (a can of Sprite has 140) and 2 grams of sugar, thanks to a cassava-based sweetener. 

I filled a cocktail glass with crushed ice, added an ounce of vodka, and then filled the glass the rest of the way with lemon-ginger soda. Instead of grenadine, which is mostly corn syrup, I dropped in a teaspoon of juice from a jar of Filthy Italian Amerena-soaked cherries ($20 on Amazon) and gave it a stir.

cocktail on table with soda can and jar of cherries

A few tweaks and this summer's viral drink gets a serious lift. 

David Watsky/CNET

This was leaps and bounds better than the basic Dirty Shirley. There was citrus, cherry from the juice and a dazzling pop of ginger. I tried the same recipe with whiskey (also outstanding) and tequila (good, but not as good as the first two).

Dirty Shirley recipe spin No. 2

The second Dirty Shirley iteration uses United States of Soda's Cherry Pop. Because the soda was already cherry-flavored, I needed to infuse the drink with lemon and lime. 

As before, I filled a glass with ice, an ounce of vodka and the cherry soda. Next, I added the juice from one wedge of lime and one wedge of lemon. This drink turned out excellent as well and another stark improvement over the original. Without the ginger, this version tastes more like a classic Shirley Temple but less sweet and with no cloying artificial flavors.

cocktail and cherry soda can
David Watsky/CNET

While the Dirty Shirley may have captured the attention of thirsty social media scrollers and cocktail bloggers alike, I think we can certainly do better, and these recipes prove it. 


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