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.