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The ‘Drink of the Summer’ Is Whatever Alcohol Is Closest to You in the Moment

Open cooler. Grab something cold. Drink. Repeat

On a clear, warm spring afternoon, you may find yourself planted like a lizard beneath a heat lamp in the sun of a bar patio. Suddenly, life feels bright and effervescent, bursting with spontaneity and vigor. A moment like this shouldn’t be marked by a drink so plain as a vodka soda or a can of Tecate. No, this calls for something fun, something special. You think back upon the special occasions of your youth, the joy you felt on the occasional Friday night your parents took you to Applebee’s and you got to order a beverage you couldn’t get at home: the Shirley Temple. Why not now, in your adulthood, order a Shirley Temple once again, this time with vodka? Why not do this a few afternoons in a row, suggest your friends do the same and declare the beverage the drink of the summer?

It’s this process of narrative-building, fantasy and the desire to organize time, year after year, that leads one beverage to be declared the drink of the summer, particularly among New York media types. Last year, it was the chaotic glamor of the espresso martini, and this year, as the New York Times wrote earlier this month, it’s the Dirty Shirley. Writing about drinks this way is indulgent and fun — I myself even called for an espresso martini renaissance in spring 2021, too. But declaring a beverage the drink of the summer misses a crucial point: The drink of the summer is always ultimately whatever you have in front of you. 

Summer drinking, by and large, is defined by efficiency and survival. I love a dirty martini, another beverage to undergo the trend-reporting treatment by New York Magazine recently, but there’s not a chance I’ll be bringing out the olive brine to my Fourth of July festivities, nor would I make it through an entire day downing cocktails comprised entirely of three ounces of hard liquor. If you’re going to go the hard liquor route, it’s going to be either in sporadic shot form (or, as is popular in my hometown in western Massachusetts, exclusively drinking nips of Fireball), or paired with a semi-hydrating mixer. A Dirty Shirley would be a solid contender, but the necessary addition of grenadine and maraschino cherries makes it unlikely to appear at the family cookout or beach day. 

This is precisely the problem with declaring a drink of the summer, though — it’s always us New York writers doing the declaring, knowing our drinking will be relegated to bars or curated backyard gatherings. As the New York Times wrote, the desire for the Dirty Shirley comes specifically from New Yorkers’ nostalgia for suburban chains. The rest of the country, meanwhile, drinks at suburban chains all the time without once considering it to be a trend. 

More than that, outside of the city, the vast majority of my summer drinking has involved picking up whatever is convenient from the local liquor store, something down-able and relatively cheap, no bartender required. Hard seltzers work, as does the obvious case of Corona. The bottle of ready to drink double strength Jose Cuervo margarita mix you pick up on a whim does the trick, too. My hometown liquor store doesn’t even carry the grenadine, maraschino cherries or olives necessary for a Dirty Shirley or a martini. 

But hey, if the Dirty Shirley is your drink of the summer, more power to you. It’s delicious. Just make sure you don’t have to reach too far for it.