Cheerwine Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Make a Cheerwine Old-Fashioned cocktail with your favorite bourbon and North Carolina’s #1 black cherry soda. This cherry-flavored cocktail is a perfect kiss goodbye to summertime.

a bottle of cheerwine next to two Cheerwine Old-Fashioned cocktails and a gold jigger on a white background

We had friends who visited last week and they asked me what foods Charlotte is famous for.

Chicago has hot dogs and deep dish. Baltimore has Old Bay and crabcakes. Austin has tacos and breakfast tacos.

Charlotte has… not a lot.

Barbecue, yes, but so does everywhere else in the South. There’s not really a dish that’s quintessentially Charlottean. (Can we work on that, Charlotte?)

But we DO have a beverage: Cheerwine.

Technically, Cheerwine is made in Salisbury, which is about a 40-minute drive from our downtown. But whatever! I will happily claim Cheerwine as a thing everyone needs to try when they visit the area.

I’ve made a number of Cheerwine cocktails over the years, and since the annual Cheerwine Festival usually happens in September, I thought I’d pull out this Cheerwine old-fashioned cocktail made with homemade Cheerwine syrup.

a gold jigger and a Cheerwine Old-Fashioned on a white background

What is Cheerwine?

Cheerwine is a non-alcoholic black cherry soda that is beloved across North Carolina. It’s been in production since 1917 and is still family-owned.

The taste is a cross between Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper. But it’s so much better than your typical cherry soda.

It is used in everything from barbecue sauce to cake… Seriously, we love it. (If I see Cheerwine on a menu, I’m ordering it.)

Cheerwine used to be “an NC thing.” I remember hauling 12-packs of the stuff to my Cheerwine-obsessed great uncle who lived in Georgia.

But these days you can find it in all 50 states or you can order Cheerwine online. Check out this Cheerwine Finder to help you figure out if stores near you carry it!

It was my love for Cheerwine that inspired me to mix it into a North Carolina old-fashioned cocktail.

a jar of cheerwine syrup next to a jigger and a bottle of cheerwine

Cheerwine Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Bourbon with Cheerwine is one of my favorite flavor combinations if you couldn’t tell from these Cheerwine Bourbon Slushies.

This Cheerwine Old-Fashioned highlights this combination in a totally new way. It’s much more spirit forward. Essentially, it’s a cherry old-fashioned cocktail.

In a classic old-fashioned cocktail, we would probably use sugar or a bit of homemade simple syrup to sweeten the drink.

Here, we are letting Cheerwine do the heavy lifting. I will show you how to make a Cheerwine syrup by reducing the soda on the stove for about 10 minutes.

two Cheerwine Old-Fashioned cocktails in rocks glasses with gold details next to a glass bottle of cheerwine soda

How to make a Cheerwine old-fashioned

A Cheerwine old-fashioned can be made in a few simple steps:

  1. Make Cheerwine simple syrup and let it cool down. You can also use storebought cherry syrup.
  2. Add a little bit of the simple syrup to a rocks glass.
  3. Add a cocktail cherry and muddle it, AKA gently mash it with a spoon or a muddler.
  4. Top with your favorite bourbon.
  5. Carefully lower a large ice cube into the glass.
  6. Top with a couple of dashes of orange bitters.
a jar of cheerwine syrup with a cheerwine bottle cap and a Cheerwine Old-Fashioned

I used my homemade cocktail cherries but you could pick up a bottle of these bourbon cocktail cherries to keep on hand.

For bitters, I recommend orange bitters to give this a citrus bite. It helps to balance the sweetness of the cherries.

As I mentioned in my bitters 101 guide, you can have a lot of fun with bitters. Black walnut, chocolate or simply aromatic bitters would be superb here. (Check out my the best bitters to add to your cocktail bar.)

For old-fashioneds, you’re also going to need to plan ahead and freeze up a big ice cube. You can also make ice spheres. I always keep a tray of these going in the fridge.

Large ice cubes are great for spirit-forward drinks because the large surface area takes longer to melt, resulting in a slower dilution process as you sip. In other words, it takes longer for the ice to dilute so you can enjoy your drink before all the ice melts.

North Carolina bourbons

When it comes to choosing your bourbon for this North Carolina old-fashioned cocktail, why not go all in and pick up a North Carolina bourbon?

I’m very proud of the small distilleries we have in our state. Here are a few North Carolina bourbons to try:

  • Rúa or Quinn’s from Great Wagon Road Distilling Company
  • Conviction from Southern Grace Distilleries
  • Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey from TOPO Distillery
  • Southern Star from Southern Distilling Company

I always recommend choosing the best bourbon you can afford. I list some of my favorite brands in this bourbon guide.

If you’re more of a rye person, that would also sub in very nicely! Feel free to play around with your favorite whiskey.

a saucepan with cheerwine syrup boiling on the stove

How to make Cheerwine syrup

Cheerwine simple syrup is easy to make. And it tastes so good!

  1. Pour 12 ounces of Cheerwine right into a saucepan.
  2. Turn the heat up to medium high. Let the Cheerwine come to a boil for 10 minutes. This will thicken the drink into a syrup and remove all the carbonation.
  3. Remove from heat, then stir in water and cane sugar.
  4. Let the mixture cool down completely.
  5. Store in a glass jar.

You can use this Cheerwine syrup in all kinds of ways, such as to make a Shirley Temple in place of the grenadine or poured over top a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

two Cheerwine Old-Fashioned with a gold jigger on a white background

Cheerwine cocktails

If you love Cheerwine as much as I do, you will love mixing it into some of my other recipes.

Try mixing Cheerwine with beer to make Cheerwine Shandies, a cherry and beer combo that’s full of sunshine. I love to sip on this one while watching N.C. State football.

If you love cherry limeade, you will love this Cheerwine Lime Cocktail as well. This one is so refreshing in the spring and summer.

But I think my favorite (for now) might be this Cheerwine Old-Fashioned. Bourbon drinks are fantastic in the fall and winter, and this cherry old-fashioned is super cozy.

Let me know what you think in the comments! // susannah

a jar of cheerwine syrup next to a jigger and a bottle of cheerwine
two Cheerwine Old-Fashioned with a gold jigger on a white background

Cheerwine Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Savor North Carolina's favorite cherry soda in this Cheerwine Old-Fashioned. Use bourbon, Cheerwine simple syrup and orange bitters to highlight the cherry flavors of this cocktail.
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Cheerwine Syrup

  • 12 ounces Cheerwine soda
  • ¼ cup cane sugar

Cheerwine Old-Fashioned

  • ½ ounce Cheerwine Syrup
  • 1 cocktail cherry
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • dash orange bitters


Cheerwine Syrup

  • In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring Cheerwine to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in cane sugar. Let cool completely. Store in a mason jar. (Makes 1 cup.)

Cheerwine old-fashioned cocktail

  • In a rocks glass, add Cheerwine syrup and a cocktail cherry. Muddle the cherry into the syrup.
  • Top with bourbon, and carefully lower in a large ice cube with a spoon.
  • Top with a dash of orange bitters.

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nutrition information

Yield: 1 cocktail

amount per serving:

Serving: 2.5ounces Calories: 325kcal Carbohydrates: 18g Sodium: 2mg Sugar: 17g
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