Cheerwine…”Nectar of the South”

“Born in the South. Raised in a Glass” – Cheerwine Slogan

The little general store on the winding mountain road caught my eye and without consulting my co-pilot, Quigley Apples, or my navigator, Linda Gail, I slid the Jeep to a stop in front of the ancient gasoline pumps, Gulf with the old clear tops and decorated in blue and orange. There was copious barking, and not from Quigley. My wife did not like being jerked about.

Photo by Kathy Clark

“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs”.  The store front sported many antique signs, some with bullet holes, but unlike the song, they didn’t block any scenery, they made the scenery. The store reminded me of the image I use for my blog, a colorized version of a depression era general mercantile in North Carolina…except for the Texico pump.

Original photo by Dorothea Lange, colorized by unknown

Once I quieted the snarling from my bride, we made our way into the breeze created by the big overhead fans and the aroma of smashed hamburgers cooking on a gridle with onions. What a glorious smell. Quigley agreed if his nose in the air was an indication. Linda Gail? I’m not sure but her nose wasn’t in the air. She has no affinity for the smell of grilled onions.

What pulled me up short was the ancient Coca Cola ice cooler which, due to its age, had been turned into an ice box. Soft drinks covered in ice, a weep hole drilled into the side to allow the water to drain into a large, graniteware dishpan as the ice melted. With visions of an eight-ounce coke filled to the rim with a package of Lance peanuts, I reached in and got a surprise.

I didn’t pull out a “Dope”, instead my fingers closed around a Cheerwine. Golly, Gee, Whiz, I haven’t seen one of these in a month of Sundays. Well, I don’t get out much and I tend not to choose soft drinks unless it is in a Cuba Libre or Jack and Coke. What a lovely surprise.

Cheerwine has been around since 1917 but for some reason it is scarce as hen’s teeth in my part of the world, or I haven’t been paying attention. Supposedly it is the oldest continuous family-owned soft drink company in the United States, the Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC. The family of Lewis Peeler, its founder, runs it and has for the last one hundred and five years.

From their website, “Cheerwine has a mildly sweet flavor with strong cherry notes, most notably black cherry; is burgundy-colored; and has an unusually high degree of carbonation compared to other soft drinks. The product was named for its color and taste”. According to Wikipedia, the company website also states that “it made sense to name a burgundy-red, bubbly, cherry concoction—Cheerwine.” The far superior, “Retro Cheerwine”, variant is sold in glass bottles and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Despite its name, Cheerwine is not really a wine and contains no alcohol. I had scored a glass bottle.

From Zac’s Dinner Menu, Burlington, NC. Note the burgundy color that contains the “strong cherry notes”

As I sipped, I remembered the fountain version sold at the old pharmacy on main street in Monroe, NC that I mixed with another Southern libation Sun Drop. Served with a maraschino cherry, I found it to be better than the traditional cherry, lemon, Coca Cola. There is a drink called “The Whining Pirate” made with Cheerwine and Captain Morgan Rum. I’m getting a bad vibe thinking about praying to the porcelain altar after a few too many Whining Pirates.

The Cheerwine takes me to further memories of the eight-ounce Cokes, Pepsis, and Nehi grape and orange sodas at Pettus Store’s cooler…and the bubble gum machine where a one cent speckled ball got you an eight-ounce nickel Coke for free. With an added nickel I could add a pack of peanuts. Heaven for six cents if I was lucky.

Just for clarification, I used the word “Dope” because the early version of Coca Cola supposedly contained cocaine and the “old folks” called it a “Dope.” Further, if you are in the South and ask for a coke, be prepared to answer a follow-up question, “What kind of coke?” If you actually want a Coca Cola, you should ask for a Coca Cola. The descriptor coke is one of the all-encompassing titles that could include any form of soft drink in the South from Mountain Dews, Sundrops, to Royal Crown Colas. For goodness’ sake, don’t ask for a “soda pop” or it’s shortened version “pop”. You might get run out of town in a northerly direction.

Visit Don Miller’s authors site at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RoznX3G2uccbNXc-ZvsS1Dxfyk0wvVhXpJYsCeHWey4W1A5nKnlxglDg

Don’s latest book is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and can be found at the link above.

3 thoughts on “Cheerwine…”Nectar of the South”

  1. Visited many such stores when I was young. Cheerwine was always my favorite coke (yes, we used that terminology too), but it was often hard to find. Now, in the PNW, it is nonexistent. Peanuts floating in your drink is sublime, don’t know why that is. Thanks for the memories your post invoked!

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  2. This was a truly enlightening walk down your memory lane for me. The South back then was so very different from So Cal where I grew up in nearly the same period. Truly food for thought here, in more ways than one! Thanks, Don.

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