I will admit, when a friend returned from a trip to the Carolinas with a bottle of Cheerwine for me to review, I was quite intimidated. Here's a beverage that has such a strong regional following, much of it being overwhelming praise. How can this reviewer from Chicago possibly live up to the reputation of a drink that's been made since 1917? Well, we'll give it a shot!
Made by the Carolina Beverage Corporation based in North Carolina, Cheerwine is an undefinable, cherry-infused drink. However, it's not a cherry cola. It's also not a fruit-flavored soda, like Cherry Crush. It's somewhat in-between.
When you first open up a bottle, you are greeted by a cola-like scent with a hint of cherry. The color is dark red in nature, leaning to be more like a cola, but it's not as brown. In fact, you'll see quite a bit of red coloring. Again, it's a paradox.
A few years ago, Cheerwine experienced a rebranding with a new look and updated graphics package. This style hinted at a retro look that I think suits both the brand and the drink well. Being a Northerner, I did not grow up with Cheerwine, but those who did often bring up positive memories of the drink. The retro play was a smart one from a packaging perspective, and the use of white/red with bubbles in the label is subtle, clean, and effective. I also like the fact that there is somewhat of a "Cherrwine badge" that now anchors the drink vs. the store brand text-only look that the drink previously had.
So what exactly does this stuff taste like, and how do you describe it to someone who has never had it? Well, it may be sacrilege, but the first thing I thought of after drinking Cheerwine is that is shares a lot of characteristics with Dr Pepper Cherry, which is a BevReview favorite. Obviously, there are differences, but that's where I'd start. I actually did some experimentation by mixing Dr Pepper Cherry with Mountain Dew Code Red to see if I could emulate the flavors at all. Alas, this was sort of a disaster! Cheerwine is unique.
The initial flavor is very pleasing, not hiding the fact that cherry is present, but also noting that it's not a cola. As the drink continues down your throat, I felt it was a bit sweet, like candy. But at the same time, it has a heartiness that held its own. Good texture, just the right amount of carbonation, and not too syrupy in taste, despite being sweetened by high fructose corn syrup (the company does make a glass-bottled Original Cheerwine sweetened with sugar).
Cheerwine describes itself as a "unique sparkling soft drink" and this is 100% accurate. The mixture of cola and fruit-flavored soda elements create a very pleasant taste that hasn't been recreated elsewhere. We quite enjoyed our bottle… and are now saddened that it's unavailable locally. But for those who have it in the South… drink up!
Carbonated Water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), caffeine, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, Red 40
A 20 oz bottle contains 250 calories, 43 mg of sodium, 70 g carbs, and 70 g sugars.