In our increasingly homogenized, corporate world, regional sodas are a way to get a taste of the past, before the mega-mergers and centralized production facilities. Michigan has Vernors. Maine, quite literally, has Moxie. Texas has Big Red. And North Carolina has Cheerwine.
Cheerwine is a throwback to the age of ginger ales and root beer, a drink for hapless teetotallers that still wanted to throw one back at the family shindig. But unlike many of its competitors, it also contains that all-important “secret” ingredient, caffeine. Almost as much as Mountain Dew, actually.
The food was ancillary.
Not that the recipe to Cheerwine’s success is that simple. It’s more than a drink for 10 year olds to get a buzz from. The drink’s true appeal lies in its mix of cloying sweetness and biting carbonation, underscored by the slight tartness of the drink’s beguiling combo of artificial “wild cherry” and natural flavors. It’s been winning over Southerners since 1917, when soda pioneer L.D. Peeler concocted the first ruby red batch of carbonated greatness.
It didn’t take long for Cheerwine to supplant Peeler’s previous flagship product, Mint Cola, and he officially changed the company’s name from Mint Cola Bottling to Cheerwine Bottling in 1924. In fact, Mint Cola was so completely forgotten that when a man found a bottle of Mint Cola by the roadside around 1970 only about 20 miles from Cheerwine’s HQ in Salisbury, the local paper ended up running a story to try and help him uncover its origins. As far as the Lexington Dispatch was concerned, it may as well have dropped from the sky.
And let’s face it, Mint Cola just doesn’t sound like a winning idea.
Cheerwine, however, brims with win. Even better, it’s still family owned, and with a growing fan base of cherry soda groupies.
“It’s time to zag.”
(Edited. Original photo by Marie Mosley.)