On any given afternoon in North Carolina, someone will take a sip from a tall glass bottle after a bite of barbecue. It’s lunchtime, and the only drink needed is Cheerwine, whose famed sweetness perfectly balances the savory flavor of smoky pork. While the bottle may read “wine,” the taste of cherries rather than grapes tickles Southern taste buds.
Established in Salisbury in 1917, Cheerwine is the oldest family-owned soft drink company still in operation. The recipe was created by L.D. Peeler when sugar was scarce during World War I. Peeler’s use of cherry flavor in the beverage helped compensate for its lower sugar content without sacrificing sweetness — and led to the original slogan: “For Health & Pleasure!” After more than 100 years of spreading cheer across our state and beyond, Cheerwine remains the cherry atop a lunch made in Carolina heaven.
Cheerwine Festival — Salisbury
During the Cheerwine Festival each May, fans wearing red hats, tie-dyed shirts, and bottle-cap earrings sip their favorite soda all day long. The tradition began in 2017, when thousands of attendees filled downtown Salisbury as it became the site of the drink’s 100th birthday party. The entire city took part: New Sarum Brewing Company released a limited-edition Cheerwine lager, now only available during the annual spring festival. The Rowan Museum expanded its Cheerwine display into a history exhibit showcasing nostalgic packaging and advertisements, including vintage yellow basket-weave cases adorned with the slogan “a basket of good cheer.” The anniversary party was such a success that Cheerwine made the festival a yearly event to celebrate the Carolina classic.
Find the recipe for this Cheerwine barbecued chicken here. photograph by Charlotte & Johnny Autry
Sweet & Smoky
photograph by Matt Hulsman
Over the years, the distinctive flavor of Cheerwine has found its way into many products, from ice pops to beer to Krispy Kreme doughnuts. At a 2013 Cheerwine charity concert featuring The Avett Brothers, Page Skelton, cofounder and president of the Pittsboro-based Cackalacky sauce company, handed out samples of his new Cheerwine Sweet Sauce, a barbecue sauce infused with the soft drink. Fans loved the familiar combination of sweet cherry and savory spices, making this another delicious pairing in Cheerwine history.