The year was 1917, and the trouble was a sugar shortage caused by the first World War. In response, L.D. Peeler set out on a mission to invent a soda that required less sugar than usual. His solution was Cheerwine, a cola with wild cherry flavoring.
Developed during the age of the temperance movement, Cheerwine, like many early sodas, was meant to appeal to proponents of Prohibition. Cheerwine’s original slogan, “For health and pleasure,” suggested that the nonalcoholic, burgundy beverage was a superior choice for health-conscious drinkers. It also capitalized on a cherry-flavored food trend, which was all the rage in 1917.
Though Cheerwine contains no actual wine, drinkers are purportedly filled with cheer upon first sip. Like ginger ale, Cheerwine is named for its closeness in color to the alcoholic beverage. The taste has been likened to Dr Pepper mixed with cherry syrup (though for the record, Cheerwine was invented 92 years before Dr Pepper Cherry). It’s also more heavily carbonated than the average soda. In fact, Cheerwine is so bubbly that modern drink machines can’t always handle it, and some restaurants offering Cheerwine report buying old-fashioned soda fountains to serve it draft-style.
Four years prior to developing Cheerwine, Peeler had invested in the Kentucky-based Mint-Cola Bottling Company and started a local franchise in Salisbury, North Carolina. When Mint-Cola’s parent company went bankrupt during the war, Peeler purchased his local branch and used it to found the Carolina Beverage Corporation. He started selling Cheerwine, and in 1924, changed the name to the Piedmont Cheerwine Bottling Company.
Cheerwine is the first American bottled cherry soda and remains family owned to this day. L.D.’s great-grandson, Cliff Ritchie, is now in charge of the company. Today, Cheerwine is North Carolina’s favorite drink to pair with BBQ, which the company refers to as a “Southern handshake.” Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H. W. Bush have sang the soda’s praises while visiting North Carolina. But in recent years, Cheerwine has received flack for being too sweet—a strange fate for the soda developed in response to a sugar shortage.