An Ode to Cheerwine

The last thing you want in summer is some fat, gloppy baby-fist-full-of-sugar to start pickling in your steaming stomach. Hot road tar and melting chocolate are the same thing if you time it right—just black goo, and you love to eat it, and I hate you.

What you really need to do to get your summer sweetness is go as light as you can: sugar for fun and caffeine for kick and water to knock the heat back a little, and if you just spend the next 60 days sipping on a soda, you won't be doing bad. But even sodas aren't how they used to be, as everyone who remembers when America was around knows. Aluminum cans taint the taste, and worse than that, mass-market modern pops are all gummed up with polymolecular poison fruxtrates to shave off calories and unnatural hellflavors like cherry-tortoise just for yuck novelty.

If you want a real drink, you need to turn to the outlaw sodas: the biker brands that persist in state-route general stores, where PepsiCo carpetbaggers can't get a foothold. My favorite would be Cheerwine: part Blue Cheer, part cheap wine, bottled in North Carolina and sold alongside soggy bags of boiled peanuts most of the way down to Florida. Cheerwine bubbled out of a basement in 1917 and has survived on simple good things like real cane sugar, caramel, cherry flavor and water. It tastes like homemade Kool-Aid and hard candy; it looks like grenadine and pours like black coffee; it comes under a cheerful logo in a classy glass bottle; and as far as I know, you can't even get it over the counter in California.

You have to take one of the little roads as far east as you can to the kind of towns Charles Portis liked, where you push your peeled peanuts one by one into the bottle and then shake it up so the salt mixes with the sugar, and then you go shoot off pistols at the drive-in with your good gal. And though I was sad to learn that Cheerwine currently offers an aluminum-can version—and a companion blog and some sort of devil's-bargain marketing deal with Hootie and the Blowfish—I was consoled in that the Web now lets Old Man Cheerwine deliver his "retro" glass bottles across state lines for those of us who made poor choices to live in cheerless places.

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