My Cheerwine fascination
There are many different types of nationally branded commercial soft drinks to choose from when you go to the store. For everything else there’s Cheerwine. What is it that’s so special about the cherryinfused carbon ated liquid? Cheerwine isn’t the only cherry flavored soda out there, and it’s certainly not North Carolina’s only claim to fame in the beverage industry.
My first answer would be that it is its own brand. Cheerwine was founded by L.D. Peeler in Salisbury in 1917, and while other sodas were bought by soda giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the Cheerwine name lives on. It’s unique in that it has a richer flavor than those other sodas, and it’s actually colored red. I tend to go for unique products when it comes to food as opposed to the mainstream variety. Don’t get me wrong I’ll have a Coke any day, and Mountain Dew gets the job done any time I need a wake up call. But Cheerwine simply does not have an adequate replacement.
My second answer has to do with its versatility. Over the weekend I used Cheerwine to make baked beans and pound cake. The beans had an extra tangy punch while the pound cake amused the palate with a cherry sensation that was flavorful but not overpowering. There are other ways the drink can be used effectively that include a glaze for ribs, cherry cobbler and ice cream. There are currently Cheerwine Slurpees offered in 131 7-11 stores across the Carolinas, and I’ll never forget the Cheerwine cream-filled doughnuts that Krispy Kreme ran for a few months back in the summer of 2010 (they need to bring those back). How many flavored sodas can be used in that many different ways?
At this point you’re probably wondering if I’m really a PR executive for Cheerwine. No, just a foodie who happens to be a journalist and loves to write about his culinary obsessions. I realize not everyone loves Cheerwine the way I do and if you go to a party with a bunch of Yankee transplants the response you’ll get to a question about the drink is, “What’s Cheerwine?” I’m also not using this column as a vehicle to convert you, but seriously you should try it if you haven’t. And at least check out that pound cake. It’s heavenly. I might even email you the recipe.
Believe it or not, Cheerwine actually made some news recently when company executives announced they were starting a campaign to market the product in all 50 US states by 2017, as reported by the Charlotte Observer. What a way to celebrate a centennial. According to the story Cheerwine is currently available in 20 states, although it is most commonly found in the Carolinas. It also states that Coca-Cola and Pepsi control about 70 percent of the soft drink market, leaving little room for lesser-known sodas.
Would Cheerwine sell in other markets? Hard to say since no one outside of the Carolinas knows about our little cherry secret. When discussing the subject with my friend who lives in DC, he wondered whether the drink would lose its southern authenticity. This seems unlikely. After all, Cheerwine will have spent its first 100 years strictly in the south and unless those northerners decide to tamper with the recipe, it will remain the great drink it is today. I would love to see Cheerwine go national. I would be able to carry a piece of southern lore with me wherever I go.
Other than the taste and the local appeal, there is something satisfying about the success story of an underdog, if you want to give it that label.
I tend to gravitate toward smaller enterprises when it comes to food. A great meal lifts my spirits and brings out the foodie in me that hides away during the rest of the day. I would rather have a glass of Cheerwine than a glass of Coke for the same reason I would rather go to the local hamburger joint than visit Burger King or McDonalds.
As I drink a bottle of Cheerwine while I write this, I can’t help but take pride in one of our state’s notable accomplishments. North Carolina is known for the Wright brothers, college basketball and Andy Griffith. It may not be long before we become known for something else that is more obscure, but just as satisfying to the taste buds. !