Cheerwine Milkshake

Ah, to be eighteen again. Once upon a time, when I went to school at the University of Georgia, I started paying attention to all the many soda possibilities that were out there. Used to be, there was a sandwich shop called Steverino’s that would deliver the most amazingly tasty giant subs I’ve ever had, and would bring along a choice of some unusual beverage that I’d never had before. I led a sheltered suburban childhood; IBC Root Beer was so outre that a friend’s crazy mother once chased another friend down the street for coming to her door with a brown bottle of it, screaming that she didn’t care what kind of beer it was, he should know better than to ring her bell holding a bottle. I mention this because it really was a powerful, eye-opening experience, knowing that you could take an 11 pm study break on a Tuesday and call for a twelve-inch special and a bottle of Vernor’s, or Buffalo Rock, or the mighty Budwine.

Buffalo Rock immediately became my favorite soda; I’m scheming for a trip to Montgomery as soon as it’s feasible to bring back a couple of twelve-packs. But Budwine… wow, I’d never had anything remotely like that before. It looks like the company, originally called Bludwine, was founded in nearby Watkinsville in the 1900s. They changed the name of their beverages in the 1920s, by which time an imitator, Cheerwine, had cropped up in the Carolinas. For decades, the two companies dueled in competing regions. Cheerwine had the Carolinas and Virginia, and Budwine was sold in Georgia, Florida and parts of Alabama and Tennessee. Eventually, Budwine petered out and the business closed in 1995. Cheerwine gradually moved into the region, and while it is still uncommon, you can find it in twelve-packs in Publix grocery stores.

While Budwine was around, though, there was a little secret that everybody in Athens got to know by word of mouth. The Dairy Queen on Oak Street, between campus and the bypass, would sell you a Budwine milkshake. It was just what it sounds like: they’d pump their vanillay soft serve goo into a steel mixing cup, open a bottle of Budwine and pour about a third in, then do whatever Dairy Queen magic was necessary and what you had was a very light, very sweet cherry milkshake that tasted better than anything else on that menu.

For fifteen years, I told people who never had the pleasure that those were the most wonderful things you’d ever tried. It never once occurred to me that, with Budwine’s better-known copy readily available and DQs dotting the landscape, there was nothing stopping me from recreating the taste here in Marietta. Well, nothing except the incredibly rude manager.

Earlier this week, I was poking around the Roadfood.com forums and realized that I had never noticed the Beverage Forum, and certainly not the “Favorite Discontinued Sodas” thread, which started in 2006 and has been periodically brought back to life by necroposters ever since.

The thread’s pretty amusing, particularly with all the well-meaning nostalgists who genuinely thought their favorite soda was dead only to learn some other region was still enjoying it. I was pleased to see that the legendary Ort.Carlton, who used to write such wonderful columns about beer and post offices and aimless roadtripping for Athens’ Flagpole magazine, contributed to the thread and mentioned Budwine. Finally, those two misfiring synapses finally clicked. There really wasn’t any reason why I shouldn’t try to get myself a Cheerwine milkshake!

So Tuesday, I picked up a 12-pack of Cheerwine, got my daughter from school, took her to the allergy clinic, and stopped into the DQ on the way back. We periodically do this as a treat for her; they sell half-price shakes from 2-4. They’re not exceptionally good shakes – soft serve goo just isn’t as good as, say, ice cream – but they do for a treat.

There’s a teenage girl who has been there for months, and today she was training some nervous newbie. My daughter ordered her shake. They made it and I said “And I would also like a vanilla shake, but I’d like you to open this can and pour about half of it in.”

I think that a teenager, even a nervous newbie, could have accomplished this without incident. Unfortunately, she was being discreetly watched by some manager, who, in that stereotypically loud, excited and singsong manner, jumped from somewhere I didn’t see her and shouted, without additional hyperbole from me, “No, no, no, no, no! You cannot do that!”

I really wouldn’t want to have been on the other side of me when I said “Yes, you can,” in my most emphatic and withering tone.

“If you want to put your Coke in, you can do it after we give it to you! We cannot do that for you!” she said, not politely. Well, a little something about her manner, probably that it was poor, didn’t mix well with my intense dislike of having anybody in food service tell me what I could or couldn’t do with the food I was paying for. Plus she called a Cheerwine a Coke; she was clearly a nitwit.

So I don’t mind telling you that I instantly discarded my otherwise unfailingly polite demeanor and told her, in no uncertain terms, that I used to have these all the time at Dairy Queen when I was in college, that the soda has to be mixed in for it to taste right, and that I was paying for the milkshake and I wanted it made my way. Okay, so there was probably some nine hundred page franchise contract that she and her husband – he’s usually sitting on the far end in a wooden chair – signed which clearly states that franchisees may not alter the formulae of Dairy Queen soft serve goo through the addition of whatever customers pass across the counter. But geez, just because you beat Tastee-Freez out of the local market in 1979 doesn’t give you the right to act like a horse’s ass.

Well, she caved. Common sense prevailed and I got my Cheerwine milkshake. My daughter, who’s sworn for years that she can’t stand the stuff, gave it a sip and wowed, “Oh! That’s SO GOOD!”

And she was right. I think the girl poured too much of the can, but it was otherwise a reasonable facsimile of what I remember. You should take a can to the DQ near you and give it a go. Maybe you’ll even avoid the dingbattery of the lady who thought she was trying to run the one by me and enjoy your shake without having to engage in formal debate over it.

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