The Littlest Rebel

This cocktail was inspired by Episode #168 of The History Chicks podcast, about the life of Shirley Temple Black.

I think it’s safe to say we all know the Shirley Temple drink, ginger ale or lemon/lime soda, a splash of grenadine, and a maraschino cherry garnish.

It’s a simple, sugary, rather flat in flavor drink that I loved as a child. Growing up I wasn’t allowed to have much sugar, so this was a real treat for me, but once grown, my distaste for the Shirley Temple grew, while alternatively, as a bartender, I would find creative ways to offer children something similar that was healthier, yet still invoked joy for the kiddos.

What to do if you want to make an alcoholic drink inspired by the Shirley Temple? Well, I decided to take a stab at it.

There is a little-known story that at some point in young Shirley’s life, she received a kidnapping threat that was so serious her parents decided to take her out of the country for her safety. The family ended up at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.

Opened on January 20, 1908, this Châteauesque-styled building is considered to be one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. The Empress Hotel was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in January of 1981.

Hotel lore maintains that in the 1930s when Shirley Temple arrived accompanied by her parents, this story sprang up due to the presence of two huge bodyguards who took the room opposite hers and always left their door open.

Whether this story is actually true or not, it led me to the inspiration for my own version by using Empress 1908 Gin as my base spirit. This Gin is an interesting collaboration between Victoria Distillers and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. On top of traditional botanicals, they add a signature blend of black tea, which is served at the Empress Hotel, and butterfly pea blossom, an exotic herb that gives the gin its natural indigo color.

Whether the original recipe used ginger ale or a lemon-lime soda, I felt it appropriate to use citrus and ginger to balance the earthiness of the Empress Gin.

I additionally chose to create an English Breakfast black tea syrup, not only to match the gin but also as a nod to one of Shirley’s listed heritages.

The famous Hollywood eatery, The Brown Derby, where it’s possible the Shirley Temple drink was invented, also served a signature grapefruit cake. Grapefruit, as it turns out, is a perfect complement to my citrus and ginger blend giving this cocktail a bit of a kick.

So here’s the recipe...

The Littlest Rebel

1.5 oz Empress 1908 gin

½ oz lite English Breakfast tea syrup

½ oz pea flower blossom tea syrup

1/2 oz each fresh lemon, lime, and orange juice

1 Tbsp ginger juice

1 pinch of sea salt.

Topo Chico or Club Soda to fill

Method: Add the tea syrups and juices to a mixing glass with a handful of cubed ice. Stir well, then strain into a Collins glass over crushed ice. Pour Topo Chico over the drink, then pour the pea flower tea and gin on top. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and garnish with a proper cocktail cherry or a fresh cherry (mine are bourbon-soaked).

English Breakfast Tea Syrup: Same steps as making a simple syrup. Once the water is hot, before adding sugar, add 1 tea bag, just long enough to color the water, then remove and add sugar, heat until sugar is dissolved.

Pea flower Syrup: Add one handful of dried pea flower blossom to water, allow to steep for 10-15 mins, strain the blossom out then add equal parts sugar, heat until sugar is dissolved.


  1. For a non-alcoholic version of this cocktail, use Seedlip Grove (a non-alcoholic spirit) which can be purchased online via Amazon, etc. Or, just skip the Seedlip and add an extra ounce of the tea mixture.

  2. For a sugar-free version, 2 packets of stevia per ½ cup of water for the syrups.

When you have a cocktail with such bright flavors like this to match that winning Shirley Temple smile, who needs chemicalized cherries?? No one, I say!