Food News

Cheerwine Release Incites Show of Regional Soda Love

Garden & Gun magazine yesterday stirred up the soda world with news that Cheerwine can now be ordered online, a development that should excite the drink's many fans in Dallas.

"Every single day we have someone asking about Cheerwine," says Scott Causey, who staffs The Soda Gallery in the Bishop Arts District.

According to Causey, the store hasn't been able to obtain Cheerwine for at least six weeks. He isn't sure what's causing the soda shortage.

"I talked to the boss and said, 'Do I need to get a truck and drive to North Carolina?'"Causey says.

Cheerwine commands by far the most regional loyalty of any beverage at The Soda Gallery, although South Carolina's Blenheim is also popular -- and also currently out of stock. Causey's anxious to get both drinks back on the shelves.

"You know that UPS commercial?" Causey asks. "I was just humming in my mind: Blenheim and Cheerwine, that's logistics."

I did what I could this week to help frustrated Cheerwine fans, yesterday tweeting out a bulletin that Cheerwine was expanding its distribution. I immediately heard back from Vernors partisans, eager to defend their favorite regional soda's superiority.

Having lived for many years in both Michigan and North Carolina, I refuse to wade into the "Which drink's better?" debate. On a hot summer day, either one will do. But Vernors is my sentimental favorite, if only because non-Michiganders don't seem especially fond of pop from the mitten state. Causey told me he gets the occasional request for Faygo's Rock & Rye, but I think he was just being nice.

That's a shame, because Vernors -- now owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group -- is pretty delicious. The ginger ale was invented by a Detroit pharmacist who mixed up a special blend of 19 ingredients, stuck the concoction in an oak cask and went off to fight in the Civil War. When he returned four years later, he tapped the barrel to discover the finest drink he'd ever tasted.

"Its purity, delicacy of flavor, and great refreshing powers have been testified to by thousands," a pleased franchisee wrote James Vernor in 1898.

Sadly, the number of Vernors devotees beyond Michigan's borders doesn't seem to have increased much in the past century. When Salon's Francis Lam taste-tested ginger ales earlier this year, he was chastised by a comment writer (whose family's dedication to the drink was so hard-core that her father mixed Vernors with Manischewitz) for excluding Vernors from his review group. Lam confessed, "Not growing up with Vernors, I find it hard to get over my initial reaction to it, which is unprintable."

OK, so it's got a caramel thing going on. And it's a bit sharp. But since Detroit needs all the love it can get, I'm taking a strong pro-Vernors stance. Here's what I'm proposing: On March 13, aka 3/13 -- Detroit's area code, as all you Eminem fans know -- drink a Vernors. It doesn't matter if you're not from Michigan, or if you'd really prefer a Cheerwine. Take one pop break to honor a city that deserves better than a RoboCop statue and the shuttering of 70 more schools. Lift a glass of Vernors to muscle and music and a community that so appreciates honest labor that the most popular Detroit Lion of the last decade was a kicker.

March 13. Vernors. The Soda Gallery's got it.

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin

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