To get to the bottom of ‘Scotland’s other national drink’ you’ll need a mass spectrometer and a team of forensic scientists talented enough to list the ingredients that make this aggressively carbonated, day-glo soft drink taste so unique. Irn-Bru is a one off.
Failing that, you could infiltrate Barrs Soft Drinks’ inner circle and find the lead casket where they keep the recipe. Irn-Bru is a garish shade of orange, a bit like hi-visibility vest. When it hits the bottom of the glass it hisses like a snake. Curiously, it sells more than Coca-Cola. Indeed, in Scotland, Irn-Bru sells more than any other soft drink. Since 1901, Barrs has been making this convivial, yet anarchic drink. Some swear by its restorative powers – ‘The only cure for a hangover’ they’ll say. Well, with that amount of sugar and caffeine it should certainly do something.
The original tagline ran ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ referencing both Scotland’s history of heavy industry, or maybe that’s looking too much into it. A cultural phenomenon, Irn-Bru – sometimes known as ginger – has become shorthand for fizzy soft drinks in Scotland. 32 secret ingredients collude to give Irn-Bru its flavour, a gruesome twosome of E110 and E124 are responsible for its carpet-endangering colour. Ask any carpet cleaner, Irn-Bru is the one stain that won’t budge.
Originally known as Iron Brew, after World War II finished, its name was changed to Irn-Bru, and quite how it survived the post-war sugar rationing is something of a miracle. Today, Irn-Bru is marketed with a variety of controversial advertising campaigns which have attracted praise and censure, the latter coming from Britain’s moral guardians who took exception to overtly sexual, Carry On-style humour, and most other strains of humour. Nevertheless, it has helped Irn-Bru enjoy a domestic hegemony over Coca-Cola. In the States, it is a banned substance, but what do they know, they’re all mad.
A symbol of Scottish identity, pandering to the nation’s sweet tooth and need for a reliable hangover cure; or a slightly citrus, vaguely fruity soft drink that sends the kids mad with a sugar rush? You decide. But if you are looking for a more Caledonian variant on Nigella Lawon’s recipe for baking gammon in various colas then Irn-Bru, we are reliably informed, could well be that drink. Irn-Bru is now available worldwide or thereabouts, and drinking it abroad is as sure a sign of Scottishness as wearing a See-you Jimmy Hat and sporting a crimson red shade of sunburn