In case you haven’t noticed that big “100” on the bottles lately, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of Cheerwine. If you’re not from the Carolinas and you haven’t paid much attention to Cheerwine, other than wonder why a soda with no alcohol has a name like that, you may not know why that matters.
Here’s why: Soft drinks are important here. There was a time when this place didn’t come with air conditioning, when summer was something that had to be endured, when long days in factories and on farms depended on a break with something cold, sweet and caffeinated.
That’s why so many soft drinks were born in the South: Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Pepsi-Cola in New Bern, Mountain Dew in Tennessee, Dr Pepper in Texas. And Cheerwine, of course, in Salisbury, 40 miles north of Charlotte.
Cheerwine has national distribution now, but there was a long time when it didn’t, when it was something you only got right here in the Carolinas. Created in 1917 when L.D. Peeler started playing around with some cherry flavoring, it’s still made in Salisbury and still owned by L.D.’s great-grandsons, Mark and Cliff Ritchie.
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Cheerwine will spend the whole year marking its centennial with collectible cans and a special Cheerwine exhibit at the Rowan Museum every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until December.
The big party, though, is Saturday in downtown Salisbury. For the free Cheerwine Centennial Celebration from noon to 8 p.m., the town will shut down two blocks of North Main Street for a barbecue competition, live music, food from other N.C. companies (like Krispy Kreme, Bojangles, Biscuitville and Cackalacky), a biergarten from N.C. beers (including The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and New Sarum) and kid-friendly activities.
With all that Cheerwine cheer, what can we bring to the party? Cheerwine recipes, of course. There’s something about the cherry-flavored cola that makes people want to make things with it. And three of things have become classics: Barbecue sauce, brownies and the ever-popular, church-friendly Cheerwine Punch.
Put them together and you’ve got a celebration, even if you can’t make it to Salisbury.
Cheerwine Barbecue Chicken
There are a lot of Cheerwine barbecue sauces out there, but they tend to be very sweet, or they just doctor a bottled sauce. For our version, we added a little heat (from Texas Pete, to keep it in the N.C. family) and a little lemon juice for acidity. It’s still high in sugar, so make sure you cook the chicken over indirect heat and put it directly over the coals just at the end, to set the glaze.
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup ketchup
1 cup Cheerwine
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons Texas Pete
3 to 4 pounds cut-up chicken (or just use thighs and legs)
Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until just softened but not browned. Add the garlic and stir, cooking about 30 seconds. Add the ketchup, Cheerwine, brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper, dry mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and Texas Pete. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Set aside 1/2 cup of sauce.
Place the chicken parts in a 2-gallon resealable bag or a large bowl. Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken, turning to coat. Cover or seal bag and refrigerate 1 hour or up to overnight.
Light coals in a charcoal grill and pile on one side of the cooking area, or light gas jets on one side. Place the chicken, skin-side down, on the side away from the heat. Cover and cook about 20 minutes. Turn the pieces, cover and cook 20 minutes longer.
Brush pieces with the reserved sauce and move closer to the direct heat. Cover and continue to cook about 20 minutes longer or until the pieces reach 165 degrees, turning and brushing with glaze every 5 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully and move pieces away from the heat if the sauce starts to burn.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
For the easiest brownies, use an Internet trick to replace the eggs and oil with a little soda. You get fudgy brownies with crispy/chewy edges. You can leave them plain, but we took it a step further with a soft, pink frosting flavored with Cheerwine cooked into a syrup.
1 box brownie mix
1 cup Cheerwine
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Cheerwine
4 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 to 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
Cherries (optional garnish)
Brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat brownie mix, Cheerwine and almond extract with an electric mixer until smooth.
Spray an 8-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake about 35 minutes, until the center is set but a toothpick inserted in the center still has fudgy chocolate clinging to it.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack, then refrigerate until well chilled.
Cheerwine Frosting: Place 1 cup Cheerwine in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil 10 to 15 minutes, until reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. It will get more syrupy as it cools.
Beat the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the Cheerwine syrup and almond extract, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, beat in the confectioner’s sugar a little at a time, until fluffy. Spread on the chilled brownies and refrigerate to firm up the frosting (it will stay a little soft). Cut into squares and garnish with a half or whole cherry if desired.
Yield: 8 brownies.
When you need a simple, fizzy and festive punch, this is your go-to version.
2 (2-liter) bottles Cheerwine, chilled
1 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled
1 (46-ounce) can unsweetened pineapple juice, chilled
Ice ring or ice for serving
Combine all the ingredients in a punch bowl. Add an ice ring, or serve in small cups over ice.
Yield: About 36 servings.