Taste of home not so far
Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2014
A friend of mine texted me the other day saying he had gotten me a small gift.
“A gift?” I replied.
“I found a store that sells Cheerwine,” he texted back. “I got you a bottle.”
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Before I explain the significance of that gift, I should probably explain what Cheerwine is and why finding it is a gift in and of itself.
It was so commonplace to me when I was a kid. I grew up in Concord, North Carolina, and you could just walk into any grocery or convenience store and buy a bottle or can, six-pack or case of Cheerwine.
Unlike its name suggests, Cheerwine is a non-alcoholic beverage. It is a highly carbonated, dark burgundy-colored soda with a hint of cherry aroma. But the taste is somewhat hard to explain. Cherry is there, but it isn’t like a Cherry Coke or Cherry Dr. Pepper. It’s neither a cherry soda nor a cola. It’s sweet, but hearty and it’s like nothing else you’ve ever had.
An ice cold Cheerwine on a hot day is like the nectar of the gods.
So why haven’t you heard of it?
Because until a few years ago, you could only find the soda in North Carolina, but not even all over the state.
In 1917, a man named L.D. Peeler started up a company called Carolina Beverage Corp., following his purchase of the Kentucky’s Maysville Syrup Company, which had gone bankrupt.
Peeler moved the business to his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina, just about a 30-minute drive north from my hometown. Soon after, he crossed paths with a traveling salesman from St. Louis, who sold him a cherry flavoring, which Peeler tinkered with until the Cheerwine flavor was born.
The drink has been a staple in the Piedmont ever since. In fact, it’s the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned soft drink company.
During the past few years, the company, now called Cheerwine Bottling, has slowly crept into other states, first South Carolina, then Virginia, and so on. The New York Times even featured the soda in its Diner’s Journal when the expansion started to move forward.
You can now find it in glass bottles in Crackle Barrel gift shops with other “vintage” sodas.
I had dinner at Carolina BBQ in Huntington a while back and they sell cans of the stuff, which is extremely fitting considering their fare.
Another friend of mine who manages a FoodFair in West Virginia recently told me his store was going to start carrying the soda.
Going back to the beginning of my story, when my friend told me the small gift he had for me was a bottle of Cheerwine, I felt a wave of joy come over me. A drink that I had enjoyed since my childhood, but couldn’t have regularly anymore, was here, close by.
And it isn’t just the soda itself. I really don’t drink soda, especially caffeinated ones, all that often anymore. It’s more the memories with which I associate that drink.
I remember when I was a little girl, and I would spend the night at my grandmother’s house, she would pop a big bowl of popcorn and pour us each an ice-cold glass of Cheerwine. Sometimes we would watch a movie or one of the TV shows she liked.
I remember going out to eat with my dad at our favorite diner and getting a Cheerwine to drink with my grilled cheese or hotdog.
The memories go on and on. And although they don’t seem like much to remember, it gives me some comfort since I no longer live near my family.
The simple fact that I can go out a buy a Cheerwine allows me to have a little taste of home here in the Tri-State, which means a lot to me around the holidays.
If you’re out at the grocery store, keep an eye out and give it a try if you come across some. I’d love to know other locations to find that Tar Heel nectar.
Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.