Uniquely Carolinian: Cheerwine
If you grew up in the Carolinas, you probably remember visitors from other states going crazy over the taste of Cheerwine and even heading back home with at least a case in their trunk. The sweet, black cherry flavor was that good, and it was only available right here in the Carolinas. If you have yet to try the "Legend," as locals call it, you are missing out on a uniquely Carolinian beverage with a long local history.
Cheerwine got its start in a former whiskey distillery in Salisbury, North Carolina, in 1917, when L.D. Peeler began to experiment with cherry flavoring amid a sugar shortage during World War I. Even though it started in a distillery, Cheerwine never contained alcohol, instead getting the "wine" in its name from its dark burgundy color. The "Cheer" part of the name came from Cheerwine's first slogan, "For health and pleasure."
The beverage became an instant local success, and as its popularity grew, so did its availability to other areas of the country. Throughout the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s, Cheerwine remained profitable and maintained its foothold in the Carolinas. The 1960s through the 1980s saw the introduction of Diet Cheerwine and also a caffeine-free version. Throughout its many years of growth and expansion, the company has become the oldest family-owned soft drink in America, and is now run by L.D. Peeler's great-grandson, Cliff Ritchie. Though the soda is still mostly available regionally, a new distribution agreement with PepsiCo and increased sales may someday land Cheerwine on the shelves of stores throughout the United States.
Though times have changed over the last 100 years, the flavor of Cheerwine has remained the same. The wild cherry soda still has a mildly sweet flavor with strong cherry notes and a high degree of carbonation compared to other soft drinks. Cheerwine's flavor now infuses other products, like ice cream, sherbet, donuts, and even Cheerwine cake.
Don't miss Cheerwine's commemorative can series being rolled out this year with one of 50 "Moments of Cheer" from Cheerwine's long and storied history. There will be seven limited edition collectible designs reflecting the brand's look throughout the last 100 years. You can also instantly win $100 on several cans hidden throughout their 12-packs across Cheerwine's distribution area.
2017 marks Cheerwine's centennial, and they are celebrating "100 Years of Cheer" by throwing a legendary anniversary celebration in downtown Salisbury, North Carolina, on North Main Street from noon to 8 pm on Saturday, May 20th. Celebrate all things North Carolina with a local barbecue competition, live music, local food options, a family-friendly kid zone and, of course, as much free Cheerwine as you can drink. The family-owned soft drink company will also display its artifacts at the nearby Rowan Museum.