Friday, January 25, 2008

Cheers For Cheerwine


I love exotic soft drinks. Anytime I’m in a new region or at a specialty grocery store, I am drawn to the off-beat flavors and brands. Sodas are a very regional thing. Even the generic name that soft drinks go by varies across the country. This map shows the variation by term across the United States.


Click on image for full map and web page.

My favorite soft drink of all time is Cheerwine, a cherry flavored carbonated drink available only in certain parts of the Carolinas. Anytime we drive south I make sure there is enough room in the trunk for a case or two of Cheerwine (and its lemon-lime cousin Sundrop) in the trunk. Even being in the Carolinas is no guarantee that it can me found. More than once we have dashed into a Piggly Wiggly and found only one lonely box sitting on a bottom shelf.

The other day I was driving home from a meeting along US 15 from Leesburg to Great Falls and stopped in a little independently owned Qwikie Mart type place to get a Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke or, as a last resort, a Wild Cherry Pepsi. Instead I found a row of Cheerwines in the drink case. And not just any Cheerwines, bottled Cheerwines. I bought two to have one to drink and one to save. It was heaven. I got home and took the picture of the remaining one you see here. I put in back in the refrigerator, but when my son got home he saw it and claimed dibs. I told him it was mine, but he saw the empty bottle and said that I already had mine.

He inherited my taste for sodas and for awhile was picking up Jones Sodas whenever he was in the grocery store. Jones comes in a wide variety of flavors and one of the features that make it a premium brand is that it uses cane sugar as a sweetener instead of high fructose corn syrup. Low and behold, on the side of the Cheerwine bottle was a declaration that it too used cane sugar.



I was living in Atlanta when the New Coke debacle took place. The City Too Busy Too Hate sure found time to show some animosity towards the company whose headquarters overlooked the campus. Some people claim that New Coke was a trick to drum up publicity, but there was no way anybody could be that clever. When Coke Classic came back, eventually to drive New Coke completely off the market, there was much rejoicing but purists noticed one difference: Coke was now made with HFCS instead of sugar.

I don’t know enough to prove it one way or another, but plenty of people point to the domination of HFCS in the drink market as a causal relationship with our nation’s obesity epidemic. The super-sized fast food meal may also share some blame, but I can’t help but think that the cloyingly sweet corn-syruped soft drinks have a role.

You can still find Coke with real sugar. The kosher variety is still made that way. My wife swears she could taste the difference when we were in China. My tastebuds aren’t that refined, but I like to know when I have The Real Thing.

In the meantime, that last bottle of Cheerwine is still in the icebox and if my son isn’t careful it may disappear one evening.
Cheerwine
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite soda?

20 comments:

NPR Junky said...

Oh, I'm a nut for Jones FuFu Berry. In DE, the only place you used to be able to get it was at Panera, but they've since switched Jones flavors. Now, I have to drive to Joppa to my nearest Sheetz to get one.

I'm also a huge fan of Coke Zero, but that's just because all the sugar in Coke was making me crazy.

DemetriosX said...

I'm not much of a soft drink drinker, though in my teens and 20s I was a pretty big Dr. Pepper fan. I switched to Snapple in the early 90s, but these days nothing at all. Even the stuff you get in Germany is all too sweet.

It's amazing how regional soft drinks can be in this day and age of globalized mass marketing. One summer when I was in college I worked for 7-Up, stocking shelves and building displays in supermarkets. Since I was temporary and covering guys who were on vacation or had really busy territories, I ranged from the Simi Valley to Watts and from the West side to Pasadena. I covered every economic area and there were big differences. Not just Perrier in the ritzier parts of town, either. Black communities went through a lot of Like (7-Up's failed attempt at a cola) and half-size cans, while I barely had to restock either anywhere else. (Beverly Hills and Belair didn't even carry Like.)

I hated that job, but I made a lot of money (over 3k in just 3 months) and it paid for my last two years of college. But for months afterwards, I couldn't go into a market without getting the shakes, and for years, I could tell all sorts of things about a market and the kind of community it served just by walking in.

Claudia said...

casual relationship is right...I don't think a solid link has ever been proven. I personally think it's more an issue of people drinking too much soda rather that what sugar is used. Cheerwine does sound very good though....I've never had it but do want to give it a try!

Impetua said...

When I was in Moscow, lo these eons and centuries ago, Pepsi products were readily available while Coke products were somewhat scarce. I used to greatly enjoy Fanta, which you can buy here but somehow tasted different in the then-Soviet Union, as well as regular Pepsi. It came in little half-liter glass bottles. It being winter, I usually kept mine in my dorm window between the two panes of glass, which were inches apart. This was common custom then; I don't know about anymore.

My favorite soda these days is Coke, regular classic Coke with sugar in it, but in deference to my general physical condition, which is to say "not affording all that extra sugar", I usually drink diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. Mmm! Better living through chemistry!

Zorba the Geek said...

Believe your wife, yello- when my husband was still drinking sugared soft drinks, he would eagerly await Passover (no, we're not Jewish) just because the local stores would carry kosher Coke, with real sugar (the local stores did not stock it at any other time). I would buy him several cases of it. I did several blind-tasting tests of his ability, and he could tell me the "real sugar" Coke from the "corn syrup" Coke every single time. His grandfather used to have a small glass of Dr. Pepper at "10, 2, and 4" o'clock, as per the advertising, believing that it was good for his health (after all, he reasoned, it was "made by a doctor!").

125records said...

I generally don't drink soft drinks, although occasionally I will try one of the higher-end kinds, like GUS (which stands for Grown-Up Soda) or DRY Soda. When I was a kid visiting my grandparents in Sweden, I used to adore the Swedish varieties of soda like sockerdricka and fruktsoda, but nowadays they just taste unbearably sweet. Give me iced tea or water, thanks. However, if I ever spot Cheerwine I'll definitely buy a bottle and try it!

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one who called all soft drinks "Coke", instead of soda or pop. It's a southern thang? (I grew up in PA, but wanted to live in the south or the west). Coke was always my preference, although for a time I liked Dr Pepper. Now I drink one Sprite Zero per day.

The house I grew up in had one of those wall-mounted bottle openers for glass bottles (of Coke, what else?).

mostlylurking

Claude said...

Oh, there's definitely a difference between the HFCS Coca-Cola and the genuine sugar type, with the latter being superior.

I don't know if this is still the case but in some parts of the world, Coke was made using beet sugar instead of cane. Some people swear that this gives the Coke a little more "bite" even though the sugars are chemically identical, so who knows?

Lately I've been trying to cut back on my sugar intake and drinking a lot of diet soda. But when I'm at the 7-Eleven fountain I usually mix some regular Coke in with the Diet to cut the (ecch) saccharine flavor.

Flyboy said...

As for me, I prefer Dr. Pepper but am looking forward to trying Cheerwine. I have to be careful because at TacoBell there is nothing better than a Dr.Pepper with a chulupa and it is easy to OD on DP.

Anonymous said...

anything by faygo, but particularly redpop and rockin' rye.

meredith

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I like Coke...and all the Coke Zero products...and Mmmm the new Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr. Pepper.

Oh and there was Ruby Red Squirt. I don't know if that's still around but that was so good!

yellojkt said...

One of the NPR shows had a story on Faygo this weekend. All four of their cream soda flavors are exactly the same, just with different names.

Carol Ott said...

Boylan's cherry soda tastes...kind of like Cheerwine, and it's fairly easy to find up and down the east coast (it's bottled in New Jersey). It's also cane-sugar sweetened.

My favorite soda is Ting. You can find it in Jamaica...and in most caribbean markets -- it's grapefruit flavored, and very good.

yellojkt said...

I love grapefruit, so I'll have to keep an eye out for it. I had an interesting cherry soda in Pittsburgh but I don't remember the brand.

JoshC said...

Cases of glass-bottle Cheerwine are available at the Wegmans in Sterling, VA, right off Route 28 north of Dulles Airport. Possibly the greatest culinary discovery of my three years living in northwestern Fairfax County -- I had been stocking up for years whenever I went to NC, but had never seen the cane-sugar variety available in bulk before.

Dale said...

I live in Winchester, KY, where I once picked up 12-pack of Cheerwine. The name forced my hand. I think it was diet, so I probably missed out on the cane sugar.

Anonymous said...

Cheerwine is also available in parts of some other states bordering NC, such as southside and southwest Virginia. Be aware, to get the real Cheerwine, you MUST buy the glass bottles. Cans and plastic bottles use an HFCS formula.

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Anonymous said...

"The kosher variety is still made that way."

For the record, to the best of my knowledge, Coke is always kosher. What you're thinking of is Coke that's kosher for Passover. Corn isn't allowed by Ashkenazi Jews during Passover, hence the substituted sugar.