In response to a prompt in my Humanities class, I wrote the following essay:
Cheerwine perfectly blends its high levels of carbonation with a cherry aftertaste to create liquid perfection. Some may think it has too much carbonation; others that it tastes like cough medicine. One could even claim it is too close to Cherry Coke or Dr. Pepper. I disagree with all those judgments. Personally, I find Cheerwine’s high carbonation to be refreshing and that its cherry flavor is superior to other sodas, but it is also more than that to me. As strange as it may seem, Cheerwine, a cherry soda made exclusively in Salisbury, North Carolina, has been something like a positive drug in my life, much like coffee is for some. I use it to reminisce about childhood, calm myself when stressed, keep myself awake when sleep-deprived, and even ensure that I am maintaining self-discipline.
The experience of Cheerwine is unrivaled by any other cola. That event starts with the can, preferably cold with a light dew. A tasteful image of an ice cube in a bubbly liquid projected onto the otherwise entirely red can with an elegantly simple logo hints at the optimum level of carbonation inside. In its opening there is a pleasing hiss, then snap, and finally a fizz as the can is opened, exposing the saccharine liquid to a world ready to consume it. With the first sip a light cherry flavor spreads across the tongue, the carbonation tickling all the way through the mouth and down the throat. Each subsequent sip is just as sweet, making it impossible for one to stop drinking it. On the bottles they claim that Cheerwine has a “legendary taste.” There is no better descriptor.
The great conundrum of Cheerwine is its limited availability. Until very recently it could be found only in the South. I am from Michigan, where Cheerwine is not just hard to find but has been literally impossible. Because of this it has always been a special, elusive treat for me that I could only have on vacations to the mountains of North Carolina. My family has vacationed near Asheville since I was a child, so attached to every sip is a touch of childhood wonder. I remember a car ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway when I was twelve, when my parents rolled down the windows and we could smell the fresh air, the temperature at a perfect seventy degrees without a single cloud in the sky, and they had bought me a Cheerwine at a gas station. Normally the sense of smell is most closely associated with memory, but in this case the strongest impression made upon me was the taste of the Cheerwine and the wonder I felt at the absolute beauty of the world. Even today, every drop brings me back to that simpler time.
For its centennial in 2017, Cheerwine decided to expand to all fifty states. It expanded into Michigan through the company Old Carolina BBQ, which I used to cater my high school graduation party. That decision was made before they had announced they were going to carry Cheerwine. About two weeks before the party I received an email announcing the expansion and, without hesitation, ordered five cases. At the party, I went around handing everyone a can, experiencing again that first magnificent sip of Cheerwine through each of them. It reminded me of that drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Much like then, the weather at the grad party was perfect, and we were outdoors next to a picturesque lake. I could see in their eyes that they were forming the same memories that I had six years earlier.
The mere taste of Cheerwine has the capacity to calm me, much like the smell of coffee can instantly relax a coffee-drinker. It is dangerous for me to consider Cheerwine to be a relaxation technique simply because it is not a healthy drink. But, in limiting myself because of that health factor, I believe that the sense of calm and wonder remains. If I drank it as often as possible it would lose those important emotional qualities. However, much like coffee, Cheerwine also has the capability of waking me up when I am sleep-deprived due to its caffeine. This leads to an interesting phenomenon. One drink is both able to calm me, thereby reducing my stress, and keep me alert, thereby increasing my productivity. It is not something I can drink every day due to the high fructose corn syrup in its recipe, but in a time of crisis Cheerwine can act as a helpful substance.
There is one type of Cheerwine that does not contain high fructose corn syrup: glass bottles. Glass bottle Cheerwine uses real cane sugar and a vintage look to transcend the can’s perfection and bring something so intrinsically ravishing that further words cannot describe it. These bottles are somewhat rarer than the cans, and as such I have begun to use them as a metaphor for my self-discipline. I always keep one at my desk with my books. To me it is representative of the fact that, despite their illicit temptation, I can control myself and let them sit there, not drunken.
Throughout my life I have tried to assign arbitrary value to inanimate objects to represent various aspects of myself. For example, in the case of the Cheerwine I want to have a physical temptation that I resist to demonstrate my ability to control myself. If I were to drink the bottle of Cheerwine, I may temporarily get the beneficial effects described before, but the meaning I ascribed to it would be lost, and for a while I would feel as though I had failed myself. There is more to this bottle of Cheerwine than something that simply tastes good; it is also important to my mental well-being.
Cheerwine will always be legendary to me, being the perfect drink to remind me of being a child, reducing my stress levels while increasing my alertness, and making sure I maintain my self-discipline. Ironically, these healthy outcomes, at least in the mental sense, all result from a surely unhealthy drink. There is no way to argue that Cheerwine is good for one’s physical health. However, I would counter that, despite its literal unhealthiness, it might be the healthiest drink I will ever know.