How I became a Cheerwine Punch mule over Thanksgiving

J. H. Osborne • Dec 20, 2019 at 7:00 PM

And just like that, I became a mule. A specialty one at that — procuring and transporting an LTO product.

That stands for “limited time offer,” at least in restaurant jargon. I learned “LTO” from Rick Barger. (Pal’s Patty Melts, which I love, are an LTO — only offered seasonally.) But it wasn’t Rick who made me a mule the weekend of my 57th birthday. It was my friend and influencer, Vicki Cooper Trammell.

She made me her Limited Edition Holiday Cheerwine Punch mule. I’ve known for years that Vicki loves her some Cheerwine, the soft drink made for over 100 years in Salisbury, North Carolina. Despite its name, it does not contain alcohol. But I’d never head of Cheerwine punch, nor Limited Edition Holiday Cheerwine Punch. Until Vicki called the night before the night before Thanksgiving to tell me I needed not return from my holiday trip to Raleigh if I didn’t bring her at least four two-liter bottles of the latter.

Vicki sent me a photo of a bottle from an online advertisement. She said it’s only available in North Carolina and parts, maybe, of South Carolina. I did a tiny bit of research and found mention that it was limited in production and distribution. One article suggested it might be available in the DelMarVa Peninsula region. I prayed I’d find it right there in Raleigh. I did. But it took some searching. After no luck at two grocery stores and a Target,I found some at a Walmart. Two bottles. I asked a stock clerk if there might be more in the store and she asked “Where’d you find those?! I thought we were out.” I quickly checked out. That night I found a plentiful stock at a Harris-Teeter near my brother’s house. I bought three. By that point I was curious and wanted my own bottle.

As soon as I got home, I wished I’d bought even more. Not because I liked it (I do), but because out of curiosity I looked to see if it was selling on eBay. One two-liter bottle had sold days earlier for $20 (including shipping). I’d paid in the $2 range.

I searched online for Cheerwine Punch recipes and found many, mostly with little variation in ingredients. We were having our newsroom Christmas party this week, so I decided to experiment and make a bowl from scratch and another using the one 2-liter bottle of “Limited Edition” premixed I’d bought for myself. Everyone like both versions. Some said the bowl from the premixed bottle had a more intense “Cheerwine” taste. I think that’s simply because I only made one ice ring and I put it in that bowl. Others commented the “from scratch” bowl had “more fizz.” I think that’s because I used a liter of ginger ale, which is usually very carbonated. Vicki came by for the ultimate taste-test — and declared the “from scratch” version “more punchier.” Judging from her smile that’s a good thing.

I also found that whether or not folks were necessarily Cheerwine fans, they seemed to enjoy this punch as something different that the ordinary Christmas party beverage offerings. So I think it will be staying in my lineup. 

Recipe from the Limited Edition bottle

“Passed down from generations, now available ready-to-serve. BEST SERVED CHILLED. For a deliciously festive flair, add one pint of sherbet.”

You see, it didn’t even call for an ice ring.

My improvised “from scratch” recipe

• One liter of Cheerwine, chilled.

• One liter of ginger ale (I use Canada Dry), chilled.

• Three cups pineapple juice, chilled.

Slowly pour sodas into punch bowl. Add pineapple juice and stir gently. Serve a pint of raspberry sherbet alongside the punchbowl and allow guests to decide if they want to add it to their punch.

Official Recipe from Cheerwine’s website

• Two 2-liter bottles Cheerwine, chilled.

• One 2-liter bottle ginger ale, chilled.

• Two 46 oz cans unsweetened pineapple juice, chilled.

• Combine ingredients and serve immediately.

• Options include sherbet.

• Ice ring: in a Bundt pan, add pineapple slices, cranberries and mint leaves. Pour in Cheerwine. Freeze 3-4 hours. Combine ingredients in punch bowl Add ice ring.

(For my ice ring I simply poured a 16 ounce can of pineapple slices, with juice, into a Bundt pan and topped it off with Cheerwine.)

I must warn you, if you’re a Cheerwine fan: when you go to that website, you’re going to see a Cheerwine Cake recipe.