Food & Drink

Crimson Dynamo


Cheerwine, North Carolina’s claret-colored quasi-cola, is a mouthful of the South.

Words By JENNIFER JUSTUSPHOTOGRAPHY BY KELSEY MCCLELLAN

Wildsam

Updated

21 Feb 2024

Reading Time

4 Minutes

A CONVENIENCE-STORE BEVERAGE cooler can be a garish place: rows of neon sports drinks, lurid cans of Rockstar, Monster, Full Throttle. Pulling out a trim glass bottle of Cheerwine, a soft drink formulated in 1917, can feel like reaching back to the temperance era. It’s a staple of the South, a ruby elixir made in Salisbury, North Carolina, where grocer turned soft-drink bottler L.D. Peeler once went looking for ways to sweeten a beverage in light of wartime sugar rationing. He went with liberal doses of cherry flavoring and voila! The first bottled cherry soda was born.

Where To Find

➀ SPEEDWAY on Salisbury’s E. Innes Street, part of which the city shuts down to make room for food, craft, and beer vendors during May’s annual Cheerwine Festival.

➁ ONE STOP on North Tryon, in Charlotte, down the road from where NoDa Brewing Company makes its cherry-wheat Cheerwine Ale.

➂ Flowing in Slurpee form at select 7-ELEVENs across (and only across) the Carolinas.

➃ MINI MARKET, in Newport News, VA, next to the shipyard where the USS Intrepid launched in 1943. Cheerwine donated scrap metal to the war effort, and WWII sailors could allegedly see a faint logo on the legendary carrier's hull.

Cheerwine has the hue of a pinot noir, but that’s pretty much where the “wine” part ends. The glass-bottled version has an earthy sweetness (it’s made with cane sugar these days). A hint of vanilla gives Dr. Pepper, and there’s an almost prickly fizz of effervescence—not foamy, like a cola. “We call it ‘sparkle,’” says Cheerwine marketing VP Joy Harper, who’s also Peeler’s great-great-granddaughter. Her family still owns the company, five generations on, protectors of the century-old secret black-cherry syrup recipe.

Cheerwine is also the ultimate complement to another North Carolina tradition: barbecue. The cherry-forward flavoring works well with smoked meats, like cherry wood adding a complementary note in the smoker. The bubbles cut through the richness like a digestif. The company likes to call this combo a “Southern handshake”—paper-wrapped pulled-pork sammy in one hand, a bottle of North Carolina nectar in the other. Who are we to argue?

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