Shirley Temples, The Drink That Needn’t

Sweet little non-alcoholic cherry drink, quaint beverage named after an actress: do you still get love, Shirley Temple?

Yes, she—The drink.—is still loved but some are coming at her for being not-so-sweet for us. That person is alcohol author Wayne Curtis who recently took to The Daily Beast to bemoan the mocktail.

It’s a drink that teaches faux sophistication. It makes the cocktail seem like an overhyped event, not a beacon of everyday civility. It teaches kids that celebrity has value and pays in lasting fame. It trains their developing brains to clamor for those very things that will put them on an endless, ultimately fruitless battle against obesity. (Brain says: “Sweet! Fancy! Good! More!”) It sends all the wrong messages.

But most tragically of all, it teaches bad taste. A good cocktail resides in a citadel of balance—sour, bitter, sweet, sharp. It’s like a massive steel Calder mobile that hangs perfectly but is so delicate it can be moved by a faint breeze.

What is a Shirley Temple? It is sweet mixed with sweet, garnished with a crimson dollop of sweet.

Very interesting and something I’ve not thought about since, really, I’m not around fully sentient children who could make the request for such a thing. Surely Shirley needs a makeover.

Curtis is onto something: if the point of a Shirley Temple is to feign adultness, to imitate that which is fancy, it shouldn’t be syrupy, fluffy empty calories. That defeats the purpose of actually enlightening or training one’s palette.

The one thing Curtis doesn’t touch on that seems most alarming is that Shirley Temples in both ideology—A fake cocktail! For kids!—and execution—Made like it’s actually alcoholic! Made with components for alcohol!—is doing much more dirty work: it’s training children for happy hour. Because those under 21 cannot imbibe in the same way adults can, this PG drink is a substitution for that which they want to imitate. Your parents have a drinking problem and you want to try what they’re sipping? Get a Shirley Temple, child, and feign their addiction, too. Considering the “Shirley Temple Black” exists—the alcoholic version of the non-alcoholic drink—this beverage is more complicated than she seems.

In doing very flimsy research on the subject, a few things pop up. First, some embrace this idea. Take this CNN story on the subject of kids and booze.

“We don’t hide this from our 5-year-old son. Felix knows the guys at our local wine store, and he sometimes asks me to make him ‘mocktails’ when we drink cocktails,” said Gresko, editor of a recent anthology of 22 novelists writing about fatherhood called When I First Held You.

“Alcohol is a part of life, and I would rather he begin to form a relationship with it under my supervision instead of in secret with his friends, where who knows what could happen.”

That’s true and a very healthy way of handling. Like young parents I see training their kids to toast when the toast their wine, the effect is the same.

Where it gets tricky is that mocktails often come from where cocktails are born. The Washington Post details the mild tragedy.

An Applebee’s in the Detroit suburbs served a 15-month-old boy a non-virgin margarita. After he sucked it down, the poor little guy was taken to the hospital with a blood-alcohol level of .10 — over Michigan’s legal limit of .08. The tipsy toddler’s parents reported that he had quite a hangover the next day. They also said they were suing. Applebee’s officially changed its policy on how drinks are served to children — the mistaken margarita had been served in a cup labeled “apple juice.”

Why a parent would order a toddler a faux margarita is beyond me but, hey, I’m no parent.

That instance is pretty shocking and, like these dudes mused over a decade ago on “Straight Dope Message Board,” there might be something afoot here. One commenter captured this questionable feeling nicely.

I think the comparision to candy cigarettes is apt. It’s not just a glass of soda, it’s a cocktail..for kids. So it’s about doing something “adult”. Like smoking.

Is that bad? Depends on how bad you think drinking is. Most kids will grow up to be adults who will at some point drink cocktails. Yes it’s associating drinking with adulthood (shouldn’t it be?) but I don’t think it’s going to turn anyone into a lush..unless there were going to be anyway 🙂 .


So, maybe, this is a non-issue? The real fear is that it is super sweet, expensive drink might cause diabetes. Or, as was the case with that Detroit babe, the drink could easily be turned into an actual cocktail. Be aware, Shirleys: you are not as innocent as you seem.

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