There was a legendary, prolific — truly epic — moonshiner from ’round Pilot Mountain way named Buck O’Hairen. Everyone bought their 100-proof rotgut from Buck. But Buck was no fool. When he realized that the revenuers would ultimately win, he decided to throw a giant bash — one so giant, in fact, that a fire started and burned for 30 days.
When Buck finally woke up, he suffered from the worst hangover in history, and vowed then and there that he was finished with moonshine. From there on out, he would cook up moonshine’s antidote, a drink that made people feel good afterward, instead of lousy. He went from moonshine to sunshine.
What, you’ve never heard this piece of North Carolina history? You know nothing of Buck O’Hairen?
There’s a good reason for that: This is one tall tale — taller than Pilot Mountain — created by two admen from Winston-Salem.
“We uncovered Buck’s recipe and were impressed with his attention to detail,” Joe Parrish says, not quite suppressing his chuckle. And that, as the old punch line goes, is Sunshine’s story, and they’re sticking to it, even if it’s fiction.
Parrish, who’s 43 and salt-and-pepper-headed, and his business partner, Keith Vest, who’s 48 and equally salt-and-pepper-headed, own an ad agency, The Variable. Three years ago, they decided the energy drink craze had gone from cool to, well, crazy. So they invented Buck O’Hairen, and Buck invented Buck O’Hairen’s Legendary Sunshine.
But for plenty of people over the age of 25, glugging from one of those cans sends a message they’d rather not communicate: I’m tired, I’m hung over, I’m desperate, I wish I were 24 again.
“If I were to walk into a meeting with a Monster can, people would say, ‘Who is this clown?’ ” Parrish says.
Instead, Parrish and Vest want to convince you that what you need at 3 o’clock in the afternoon is a pick-me-up. What you need at 8 o’clock in the morning is a drink to quickly hydrate you, a drink that contains an amount of caffeine equal to that of a small cup of coffee. A drink that is natural, caramel-colored, and carbonated: Sunshine.
Though they’ve received requests to sell Sunshine in Colorado, Parrish and Vest are focused on the Triad and Triangle in North Carolina.
“We thought we could create a really great brand from our roots and our heritage,” Vest says. “We love the South, and identify with Cheerwine and Sun Drop and RC Cola.”
“We’re in between a soda and an energy drink,” Parrish says, and indeed, their drinker demographic includes both millennials and boomers. Often, when people feel fatigued or crave sugar, they’re really just dehydrated. That made Sunshine’s creators very intentional about the ingredients. A plan for sugar-free was eliminated when stevia, despite being a healthier sweetener alternative, left a definite aftertaste. “Nobody really owned the ginger category,” Parrish says, “and mixing it with caffeine was interesting.”
Sunshine is partnering with bars and appearing in the hands of mixologists all over Winston-Salem. “Put your stamp on a Sunshine cocktail,” the barkeeps have been challenged, and the results have been all over the cocktail map, from Tex-Mex margaritas to a blend of beaten egg whites, orange zest, Sutler’s gin, and Sunshine at The Honey Pot restaurant.
Sometimes it’s hard to be both healthy and happy (consider kale). Sunshine promises to “bring brightness to your belly,” plus “a healthy dose of optimism,” and this boomer can’t deny that I felt better after drinking one. Doesn’t every soda need a story? Buck O’Hairen’s is pretty easy to swallow.
Fountains of Youth
These North Carolina soda makers are creating flavors for a new generation.
What’s your favorite soda flavor? Orange? Grape? Or a more refined concoction like Spicy? Brood Soda founder Jon Lehman has created four new drink flavors: Sweet, Smoky, Spicy, and Sour, plus three to accompany your favorite Triangle college sports team — Devil (ginger/ginseng), Ram (white grape/peppermint), and Wolf (cinnamon). Find bottles of the corn-syrup-free drinks at gourmet grocers, bottle shops, and restaurants.
Order online at broodsoda.com.
Waynesville Soda Jerks
Chris Allen and Megan Brown, known as “The Jerks,” started out by selling their natural strawberry-rhubarb and Concord grape sodas at the Waynesville farmers market. Now, the drinks are so popular that these and other seasonal flavors are available in taprooms, bakeries, and small grocers in Asheville and Waynesville, as well as at the couple’s retail shop. It’s open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Waynesville Soda Jerks
144 Industrial Park Drive, Suite A3
Waynesville, NC 28786