Everything you wanted to know about Cheerwine, an iconic Southern soda

Hailing from North Carolina, the company behind the cherry-flavored soft drink is still run by its founder’s descendants
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Cheerwine is America’s first bottled cherry soda

Photography by Tim Robison

Created in 1917 in Salisbury, North Carolina, Cheerwine owes its abundant popularity, in part, to a time of scarcity. Because of extensive wartime rationing, Carolina Beverage Company founder L.D. Peeler needed a way to produce soda with less sugar, so he began blending his beverages with cherry flavoring he bought from a traveling salesman. These experiments culminated in Cheerwine—America’s first bottled cherry soda. Now, more than a century later, the company behind the iconic “Nectar of North Carolina” is still operated by Peeler’s descendants, making it the oldest continuously family-run soft drink business in the nation.

  • During the ’40s, Peeler’s son, Clifford, contributed scrap metal and signage from Cheerwine’s manufacturing line to the war effort. Naval sailors alleged they were able to make out the company’s logo in the hull of the USS Intrepid.
  • In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was reportedly shocked into the third person after a sip of the burgundy beverage, declaring, “Ike likes!”
  • Every May, the city of Salisbury hosts the annual Cheerwine Festival, which draws more than 60,000 visitors with brand-inspired merchandise (soaps, jewelry, vintage goods) and Cheerwine-flavored treats, including fudge, floats, funnel cakes, and doughnuts.
  • NoDa Brewing Company, one of Charlotte’s original craft breweries, offers an easy-drinking Cheerwine Ale, a wheat beer infused with the effervescent cherry soda.
  • The National Barbecue & Grilling Association announced Cheerwine as its official soft drink in 2015, cementing a longstanding relationship between barbecue and the beverage that’s often referred to as the “Southern handshake.”
  • Jon G’s Barbecue, a Saturday-only joint in Peachland, North Carolina, makes its acclaimed hot links with a hearty splash of Cheerwine. The result? Sausage with a signature red tinge and a mild sweetness balanced by jalapeños.

This article appears in the Winter 2023 issue of Southbound.

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