Three Cheers my friends! A early May trip to the Rowan County Museum in Salisbury provided my inspiration for this post written in celebration of the 100th anniversary, or the #Cheertennial, as they like to say, of Cheerwine. The legendary soft drink “born in the Carolinas and raised in a glass.”
There will most certainly be #CheerInTheAir as thousands of Cheerwine fans across the country, many members of the official fan club – the Cheerwine Authentic Soda Society – celebrate this unique cherry flavored soft drink that has been pleasing the public’s palate since its inception in 1917.
I was invited by the marketing folks at Cheerwine to take a little trip down memory lane with them and then to tell the story of this delicious native North Carolina beverage. I am pleased to partner with the company on this post and in the promotion of the big day of celebration for the centennial, scheduled in downtown Salisbury for May 20, 2017.
The Cheerwine Bottling Company, was conceived by general store owner L.D. Peeler of Salisbury, NC. in 1917. After a long search for something new in soda offerings, he invented the formula for Cheerwine. What was then a new and unique soft drink with the sweet cherry taste, is still the delicious Cheerwine beverage we know and love today,
The very building in which Cheerwine was invented still stands in Salisbury at 322 East Council Street. While it is no longer a general store, the murals on the side of the building tell the story of its heritage. The company’s headquarters are a mile or two away, but still proudly in their hometown at 1413 Jake Alexander Blvd. S., Salisbury, NC 28146.
“While much has changed around Cheerwine over the last hundred years, the taste and authenticity of Cheerwine itself will never change,” promises Cliff Ritchie, Cheerwine’s president. Ritchie is the great-grandson of the soft drink’s founder, L.D. Peeler. His children, Joy Harper and Carl Ritchie, are the family’s fifth generation and currently work for the Salisbury-based company which continues to be family owned.
The company and its many fans have been celebrating this major milestone since the first of the year, when the Rowan County Museum, located at 202 N Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144, turned over more than half of the exhibit space to display a wonderful and impressive collection – much of it on loan from private collectors – of Cheerwine memorabilia, advertising, bottles, cans and packaging.
In the largest exhibit room the museum has set up an old fashioned soda shop – for display only – with counter stools from the original Salisbury Woolworths and a 1950’s circa original vinyl covered booth as well. Its a step back in time through the 10 decades of Cheerwine’s long lived popularity. So much to look at, so much many will remember – from billboards to old newspaper advertisements. This food writer just had to slide into the historic booth for a quick photo op, to stop for a sip and take a moment to take it all in.
As was the case with the inception of many of the early soft drinks, Peeler was looking for a way to improve the taste of seltzer water. 100 years ago was still a time before glass soda bottles – which would crack under the pressure of the effervescent and decades before the concept of canned sodas or plastic bottles.
The seltzer water was a chemical concoction and until production of the bubbled water was fine tuned it took the expertise of someone with a scientific background to get the mix just right. And so it was that most early soft drinks, often called tonics or elixirs, were thought to give a healthy boost and were prepared and mixed for on-site consumption by pharmacists.
By the early 1920s the first bottled soda’s came around and I was impressed to see one of the original glass bottles complete with the paper label in the Cheerwine exhibit. The first vending machines came in the 1950’s and gave the consumer the convenience of buying a single Cheerwine on location. Prior to that Cheerwine was delivered to stores, first by horse and buggy and then by delivery trucks.
The Secret about the Cheerwine Syrup
As the mix was perfected, and the seltzer water became available on tap, soft drink service moved from pharmacies to soda shops where “soda jerks” blended the sweet Cherry flavored syrup with just the right amount of seltzer water.
Cheerwine, and other soft drinks of the day, was not only served by the glass over ice, but the syrup was served on ice cream sundaes and in ice cream floats. Each of these soda shops specials was hand crafted by a Soda Jerk. These were the craft mixologist of their day. The moniker was coined and became popular in the vernacular, as a result of the jerking action it took to pull down the tap to pour the seltzer in the glass. Even though soft drinks like Cheerwine had been sold to consumers in bottles as the industry developed since the 1920s; these popular soda shops and then the drive -ins with “car hops” that followed, continued to mix their own, blending soft drink syrups and seltzer together to order.
The syrup came to soda shops and restaurants in boxes shaped much like an oversized paper milk carton. The cartons were labeled “For Fountain Use” but somehow over the years, Cheerwine syrup has found its way into our kitchens where chefs and home cooks alike, opted to think outside the syrup box, and have loved blending this wonderfully sweet elixir into hundreds of different recipes.
Interestingly, the syrup is not thick and honestly not overly sweet. It definitely tastes of cherries; and while I am not privy to any trade secrets to give away, for me the “deliciously different” taste of Cheerwine, tastes more than just of cherries, there is also a unidentifiable, rooty, rich component – almost as if there is a bit of sassafras in the mix. Whatever the proprietary blend is, a breakdown doesn’t really matter – I love it, both as a beverage and as an ingredient.
The secret I am privy to share is that Cheerwine syrup is readily available to consumers at an incredible price. It is yours for the asking, ready for you to purchase to use in your own craft cocktails, cakes, ice cream concoctions, candies, and in marinades, barbecue sauces and glazes for beef, pork, chicken, duck, shrimp and other seafoods as well.
While the syrup is not sold in stores, Cheerwine’s sweet secret syrup is available at the Cheerwine corporate headquarters in Salisbury anytime during regular business hours and will also be available for sale in one of the Cheerwine booth’s at the May 20 celebration for just $3 a bottle!!
If you find yourself in need of some inspiration before you start to cook try a jar of another of my favorite Got To Be NC/Goodness Grows in North Carolina products: Cackalacky/Cheerwine Sweet Sauce. The original, and oh so fabulous, Cackalacky sauce is made from North Carolina sweet potatoes. When Cackalacky fans asked for a slightly sweeter version of this delicious slightly spicy sauce, the sauciers at Cackalacky who make the magic happen, reached out to their friends at Cheerwine. The result: a sweet ‘n savory dip / grilling sauce / marinade that you’ll want to mop on everything from shrimp on the barbie to that burger on a bun.
Join in the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration
No cheer-pressure here, but if you’d like to raise your glass in cheer and join in the May 20 Centennial Celebration in Cheerwine’s home of Salisbury, NC, you won’t be alone, so my advice is to start early. You may drive from Charlotte or make the day even more fun and take the train!!
To simplify travel to and from Cheerwine’s Centennial Celebration, the brand has partnered with Amtrak to offer a discounted transportation alternative. Trains will run from Charlotte and Raleigh to Salisbury, with stops at all stations in between. The Amtrak Salisbury Station is just steps away from the action, and Cheerwine will be served to riders while supplies last! To receive a special 15 percent discount on your pilgrimage, Cheerwine fans may book your tickets here
The City of Salisbury will be closing off two blocks of Main Street to any vehicular traffic all day on May 20, 2017. There will be stands with free Cheerwine with commemorative Koozies, free biscuits and bbq and a host of live music for everyone to enjoy from noon to 8 pm. In addition, look for Limited Edition Cheerwine merchandise available for purchase and a People’s Choice BBQ Competition from noon-2 p.m. Here a half dozen or so teams will compete. Celebration attendees can sample BBQ from each team at no cost and then vote for their favorites. After the competition plates of BBQ will also be available for sale.
Come hungry, in addition to the BBQ and plenty of Cheerwine to drink, the May 20 celebration includes food from many of Cheerwine’s partners and friends. Here is what you’ll find in store: Krispy Kreme will be serving fresh made doughnuts from their new “Hot Now Mobile Store”; Bojangles and Biscuitville will be serving free biscuits; and Select Bakery will be serving Cheerwine cake. Fatz Café will be on hand with more good eats, you can sample that famous Cackalacky sauce I told you about earlier; and King of Pops will offer a specially made Cheerwine-flavored popsicle, on my!
For adults there will be a Biergarten with NC craft beer, featuring pours from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, and New Sarum Brewing Company & Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery, both located in Salisbury, NC.
For kids, look for the Family-Friendly Kids’ Zone, with magicians, jugglers, rock climbing wall, obstacle course, slides, bounce house, lawn games and more.
Remember the Cheerwine exhibit at the Rowan Museum I told you about? There will be free tours of museum’s multi-room exhibit celebrating Cheerwine’s 100 years. And while you are looking around at it all, keep an eye out for the historic 1927 Cheerwine Ford delivery truck – it will be making appearances during the day and will be the perfect back drop for fun #Cheertennial photos with family and friends!
Cheerwine’s $100 Centennial Can Promotion
But that’s not all – the festivities don’t end after the May 20th weekend. There is reason – actually 500 reasons – to keep celebrating Cheerwine through the end of the year. As you purchase cans of Cheerwine this year, keep your eyes out for the $100 Centennial Can promotion. There are 500 of the specially labeled cans to be distributed throughout the Cheerwine inventory this year. Find one, peel off the winning label on the back of the can and win $100!
Here is how it works. Throughout 2017, the beloved soft drink will continue rolling out new editions in its centennial can series with each of the Cheerwine labels used over the course of the past ten decades. Cheerwine fans are invited to collect all seven cans in the series, shown here, before the end of the year. My Cheerwine sources report that there are still plenty cans out there yet to be redeemed so there is still the chance to win! Check out the complete contest details here
Later this year, I will be doing another article about Cheerwine and its importance as a local North Carolina product. I will be including some recipes in that post and invite you to join in the fun. Send me your family’s favorite Cheerwine recipe. it doesn’t have to be original but if its not, be sure to credit the source; or if its an original recipe tell me a bit about the history.
My friends at Cheerwine will send coupons to everyone who submits a recipe and I’ll print three of the top recipes submitted.
Send me your recipe with your photo and contact info – Name, Street Address ( so we can send you your coupons) and email, plus a few words about why you love the recipe – Heidi Billotto – at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com. Then, stay tuned and look for that second post to come out later this fall.
Meanwhile plan to attend the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration in Salisbury Sat May 20, noon to 8 pm and have a blast! Here’s to another 100 years of cheer!
Want to know more?
Where to buy: Cheerwine is available in supermarkets, restaurants, mass merchandisers and convenience stores in select states nationwide, across the state of North Carolina and on the company’s website at cheerwine.com.
Social Speak: Follow Cheerwine on Facebook at facebook.com/cheerwine; or on Twitter and Instagram @drinkcheerwine.
Hashtags: Always look for the #TellThemHeidiSendYou and #IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving Hashtags for all of my food, drink and restaurant recommendations.
When you post your photos from the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration on your social media, be sure to tag me and Cheerwine too, and use any of the fun Cheerwine hashtags #CheerInTheAir, #Cheertennial , #Cheerwine100 , #Cheerwine & #Cheers
Want to taste or buy more after or before the May 20 celebration? Innes Street Drug Store (112 S Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144) has Cheerwine merchandise for sale and makes delicious Cheerwine floats and fudge.
In addition to the yearlong Cheerwine exhibits open all of 2017, the Rowan Museum in downtown Salisbury also has Cheerwine shirts for sale. For more information and museum hours, click here.
For more information on Cackalacky/Cheerwine Sweet Sauce, visit the Cackalacky Website here.
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More posts about culinary events, cooking classes, and restaurants you don’t want to miss coming soon.
And remember, #TellThemHeidiSentYou
My little guy loves Cheerwine! He would probably get a kick out of this celebration. 🙂