By Andrew Dunn
North Carolina’s state legislature did a great job when they codified most of our state symbols.
The Plott hound traces its roots to a settler of the North Carolina colony in 1750. It deserves to be the state dog, as it was declared in 1989.
The dogwood is a lovely state flower, proclaimed in 1941. We’re a leading producer of sweet potatoes, our official state vegetable (1995). Heck, I’ll even go along with the cardinal as the state bird (1943), although that honor is shared with six other states.
But one state symbol continues to rankle me as just plain uninspired.
In 1987, the General Assembly declared milk to be the official state beverage of North Carolina — joining 19 other states that have done the same.
Now, I have plenty of fond memories of milking cows at the N.C. State Fair and drinking fresh off the teat (they don’t let you do that anymore, though). But milk as the official beverage? Sure, we have it. But North Carolina ranks only 31st among U.S. states in milk production.
It’s a lazy choice when North Carolina has a rich and distinctive beverage history. Pepsi was invented in New Bern in 1893, first called “Brad’s Drink” before taking on the Pepsi-Cola name five years later. Unfortunately, the corporate HQ is ow in Purchase, New York. It’s way too generic today to be a state symbol.
Which brings us to the obvious choice, a Salisbury-based cult favorite born in the South and raised in a glass.
I’m talking about Cheerwine, of course.
Cheerwine is the type of beverage that gets mailed to out-of-town relatives who have moved outside the distribution network. It’s fizzy and delightfully sweet — and inextricably linked to North Carolina.
Why not make it the official state beverage?
The real obstacle is likely the state’s agricultural community. They still hold powerful sway in North Carolina, and rightfully so. They’ll be hesitant for a local commodity to get dropped, even if it’s not a distinctive business.
But it is possible.
The commonwealth of Kentucky tried something similar just three years ago, when a state legislator filed a bill to name Ale-8-One, a ginger-citrus cola made just outside of Lexington, as “the official Kentucky original soft drink.” It’s watered-down language, to be sure. But even that couldn’t make it through. Gov. Steve Beshear ended up signing an amended bill calling the drink simply “an original Kentucky soft drink.”
Who’s willing to take this on? N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, how about you?