The Cherry Bounce: Raleigh’s official cocktail

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by Dave Rose

owner, Deep South The Bar

photographs by Nick Pironio

Yes, Raleigh has an official cocktail, and it’s been around since around 1769, before Raleigh was even a city. It’s called the Cherry Bounce. We didn’t invent it – any more than we invented college basketball, the acorn, sweet potatoes, or American Idol finalists. But it’s ours.

Like other symbols of southern greatness, the Cherry Bounce has been enjoyed throughout the world for hundreds of years. But early on, Raleigh managed to place its stamp of ownership on what is arguably the oldest and most influential cocktail in North Carolina history. This is the story of how a drink made Raleigh what it is today.

The legend has been passed along for years. I admit to having had a decent knowledge of it – when I opened Deep South The Bar in 2007, I did some research on the topic – but in setting out to write this article, I wanted to dig deeper. That’s when I discovered the rich history behind this iconic cocktail and the role it played in the founding of our grand city as the capital of North Carolina.

On Feb. 28, 1769, a fellow by the name of Isaac Hunter was granted authority to open a tavern at his dwelling known as Wake Crossroads, located on the popular stage road between Fayetteville, N.C. and Petersburg, Va. (today known as Old Wake Forest Road).

At his tavern, Isaac Hunter served the Cherry Bounce. Records of this concoction, said to have been one of George Washington’s favorites, date back as early as the mid 1600s. So while Isaac Hunter didn’t invent the Cherry Bounce, he was just smart enough to serve it, making his tavern one of the most popular stops between the north and the south.

At around the same time, landowner Col. Joel Lane opened Joel Lane’s Public House in an area known as Bloomsbury. This also quickly became a popular spot – and it too served the Cherry Bounce.

Fast-forward to 1788. The North Carolina General Assembly decided it should stop meeting all over the state and agree on a single spot to convene, an “unalterable seat of government.” One thing was certain. Our state capital, they declared, should be located within 10 miles of one of their favorite haunts: Isaac Hunter’s Tavern.

Nine commissioners from nine judicial districts were appointed to the task of buying the land for a capitol building. They included gentlemen named McDowell, Martin, Person, Blount, Dawson, Hargett, Harrington, Bloodworth, and Jones. Sound familiar? Before my research for this article, I didn’t know the history of the names behind our downtown streets. It was a pretty cool ‘ah-ha moment’ for me.

So, on March 20, 1792, five of these nine commissioners got together at Isaac Hunter’s to decide what land to buy for our state government headquarters. With only five present, no official business was conducted that first day. Then they moved the next day to Joel Lane’s house, where the remaining commissioners joined them. They had about 10 pieces of land to look at, including tracts from both Lane and Hunter. The nine worked tirelessly for 8 days looking at all of the options and on March 29, 1792, they voted. The votes were split among three different properties, Lane’s being one of them, but no majority decision could be made.

But then, that night at Joel Lane’s, something clearly happened. Because miraculously, the very next day, they voted again, and the majority voted to purchase Joel Lane’s tract of land known as Wake Court-House. What swayed the vote? Could it have been the Cherry Bounce? Is it possible that without Isaac Hunter and Joel Lane’s Cherry Bounce, our center of state government might be in Wilmington. Or Fayetteville. Or … Ahem… Charlotte?

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Let’s recap the facts:

1. The Cherry Bounce was the drink of choice at both Isaac Hunter’s and Joel Lane’s in the 1700s.

2. Lawmakers stayed at these places.

3. Major decisions were made at, or about, these two taverns.

a) First, that our capital would be located within 10 miles of Isaac’s place;

b) They were staying at Joel’s place when they decided to buy his land.

Keep in mind that in the 1700s, many described this area as wilderness. These nine men were in the middle of nowhere. Nine men, together in a tavern, with the nation’s most popular drink at hand. To conclude that their decision-making was done without the influence of this readily-available cocktail would be like believing Johann Sebastian Bach composed his early masterpieces while sitting at the organ, but not while playing the organ.

Of course the Cherry Bounce gets the credit. I, for one, am quite proud of it.

After all, drinking establishments have a storied place in the founding of our nation. Many believe Thomas Jefferson wrote parts of The Declaration of Independence while drinking ale at the Indian Queen Tavern (Inn) in Philadelphia. The Bell In Hand Tavern in Boston claims to be the gathering place for many of our early policy makers and influential leaders. Hopefully it’s not too much for us to consider that a tasty cocktail played a role in Raleigh’s history as well.

The original Cherry Bounce was made up of brandy, cherries, and sugar infused for several weeks or months. An Internet search will turn up Martha Washington’s original recipe, which is interesting.

When I was opening Deep South, I wanted a drink that was local, with some history. The Cherry Bounce made sense. At that time I was also co-producing a concert series by the same name. It felt like the right drink for us. So I made a batch closely resembling the original recipe and, well, I didn’t like the taste of it at all. It was terrible, actually.

I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. It’s unlikely I’d enjoy the taste of a drink from the 1700s any more than I might have an affinity for a horse and carriage, powdered wigs, or colonial breeches. They’re all fine I suppose but not really my thing.

So in 2007, my team of seasoned bartenders and I set out to make an updated version of the Cherry Bounce, and we’ve been selling it ever since. Here’s how you can make your own (modernized) Cherry Bounce – Raleigh’s Official Cocktail.

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The New Cherry Bounce

In a shaker tin with ice, combine:

1 ½ ounces cherry vodka

2 ounces cranberry juice

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Shake and strain into a
Collins glass filled with ice.

Top off with club soda. Garnish with a cherry.