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The Case Against The Shirley Temple (The Drink)


Like I said earlier, just about anywhere in the U.S. this weekend it is hot. So hot you may be looking for a refreshing cold drink, especially if you and the family are going out to eat tonight. And if you have kids, you might be tempted to order a Shirley Temple for them. You know, it's got the ginger ale, the grenadine, the maraschino cherry. It's named for the awesome child-actress-turned-ambassador.

Well, writer Wayne Curtis says don't do it. He's a travel writer, cocktail enthusiast. And he says in a piece he just posted in The Daily Beast that Shirley Temples are destroying America's youth. He joined us from New Orleans, and I asked him to explain why he's such a hater.

WAYNE CURTIS: Well, I want to make it clear that I'm not related to Agatha Trunchbull, the child-hating headmistress in "Matilda." I like kids. I just think they should be exposed to a little bit better drinks. I think that the problem I have with the Shirley Temple is that it's the antithesis of what makes a good drink, at least a good cocktail. A good cocktail's all about, you know, balancing flavors. You have sweet. You have sour. You have bitter. You have these different elements in there, and getting that balance right is sort of a trick and an art.

And with the Shirley Temple, what you have is you have sweet plus sweet and then garnished with sweet. You start with the ginger ale, which is sweet. You add the grenadine, which tends to be just high-fructose corn syrup with some flavoring and coloring. And then you add an artificial cherry, which has been sitting in also high-fructose corn syrup. So it seems to me you're training generations of kids to associate the sort of sophistication and a big-event drink with something that's just sweet. And if you gave them something a little more interesting, maybe they'd expand their interest and their tastes.

MARTIN: Can I just ask this - I thought that writers like yourself kind of are part of this anti-snob movement where you're trying to teach people to like what they like as opposed to what they're told to like.

CURTIS: Right.

MARTIN: So what's so terrible if you just like it as opposed to trying to like something 'cause it's cool?

CURTIS: It's not that terrible. I grew up with three brothers, and we used to order those and Roy Rogers all the time. And we'd be so excited at the table we'd be like, you know, golden retrievers at a tennis ball factory when they came out, just besides ourselves. I love the Shirley Temple. I like the Roy Rogers. But I think it set me back 10 years, and I wish I had some other options at the time.

MARTIN: But you said that when you discovered that the Roy Rogers was almost the same drink as the Shirley Temple that you have not fully recovered from this understanding. First of all, what is a Roy Rogers? And why was this so devastating? Is there a cherry in it?

CURTIS: There's a cherry in it. Roy Rogers is basically the same as a Shirley Temple, but it's typically made with Coca-Cola. It's Coca-Cola and grenadine. And you sort of imagine them to be concocted in some laboratory specifically for us, but it turned out not so much. So I guess it's similar to learning about the Easter bunny and Santa Claus.

MARTIN: Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about the Easter bunny.

CURTIS: (Laughter) OK.

MARTIN: So what would you recommend for people who are going out and they want to kind of introduce their kids to perhaps a more interesting, refreshing drink?

CURTIS: The simplest one is just instead of putting the grenadine, the artificial pomegranate syrup, in there just ask to put some dashes of bitters in there. Now, bitters does have some alcohol in it. I mean, the percentages are so low there's going to be no effect whatsoever. But most places now have much more sophisticated syrup. There's all these manufacturers now producing things like elderflower tonic and the natural almond syrups and even things like charred grapefruit syrups. And kids are not going to like all of them. They may not like most of them. But I think exposing it to them is worthwhile, and let them decide what they like and what they don't.

MARTIN: So can I put you on the phone with my kids when they go, ew (laughter)? I'm going to hand the phone over to you.

CURTIS: Sure, I'll talk to them (laughter).

MARTIN: You tell them, straighten up, kids, OK? That's Wayne Curtis. He's an author and a commentator. You might want to check out his TEDx talk called "The Evolution Of The Craft Cocktail." And he hates Shirley Temples - the drink, not the person, who also, by the way, Wayne Curtis, told Scott Simon she didn't like them either.

CURTIS: She did not. She thought they were icky and too sweet.

MARTIN: Wayne Curtis, thank you.

CURTIS: You're welcome. Thanks very much.


SHIRLEY TEMPLE: (Singing) Right through a hoop, those animal crackers in my soup. When I get hold of the big, bad wolf, I just push him under to drown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.