No one—not even company execs—can fully account for Cheerwine’s huge spike in national popularity over the last few years. The burgundy-red, cherry-flavored soda wasn’t widely available outside Tar Heel State lines until the late 1980s. But today, thanks to a hefty amount of social-media love, countrywide coverage by outlets such as the Food Network and the New York Times, and the fact that you can order cases online through KegWorks no matter where you live, North Carolinians are no longer the only ones crazy for the hyperfizzy drink.
“Growing up in Salisbury, where the company is headquartered, we didn’t only drink it straight, though,” says Joy Ritchie Harper, director of marketing at the fifth-generation family business. “For special occasions, we’d put it in punch, ice cream, barbecue sauce…” So the beverage’s hundredth birthday party this weekend isn’t just fodder for an advertising campaign. It’s a genuine celebration. Join the downtown block party for live music, barbecue, and free soda at the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration on Saturday, May 20, from noon to 8 p.m. While you’re in town, soak up the soft drink’s history at the Rowan Museum’s new exhibit, Cheerwine: 100 Years, which is packed with such artifacts and memorabilia as original 1917 bottles, stools from the old Salisbury Woolworth’s, and vintage signage. “Basically, if it has Cheerwine on it and they made it—we either have it, or we have somebody bringing it to us,” Harper says.
And if you can’t make it to Salisbury for the big to-do, make one of these instead—a Cheerwine-infused Rock and Rye.