Soda: Have You Tried Irn-Bru from Scotland?


[Photograph: Jed Portman]

Irn-Bru is iconic in its native Scotland, a place with which I am not personally familiar. I have never tried this drink along a misty country road or seated by a murky loch, or in a crowd of red-haired Scots, and I imagine that it might benefit from the context. What sodas we enjoy can be determined as much by context as by flavor, a point hammered home to me when I was hit by a near-insatiable thirst for Cheerwine while on my way to North Carolina's Lexington Barbecue Festival last week.

To an American, skimming the shelves at Publix, Irn-Bru does not look so appealing. First there is the label, which would be more at home on a mid-80s fitness bar than on a citrus soda. It comes at you with an imposing IRN-BRU—in bold block letters—and the silver silhouette of a muscular running man. Then there's the color, a fluorescent orange that may not look fit for consumption if you are over the age of twelve.

I bought a bottle last week, took it home, chilled it, and poured a glass. The first flavor, predictably, was bright sugary orange. A little cream. A rusty aftertaste (an old advertising slogan, "Made in Scotland From Girders," referred to its rusty color). This soda tasted just like something, but I couldn't put my finger on it right away. Not anything in nature. Not another soda, quite. No, a candy—a Lifesaver! It's like a jar of orange Lifesavers, or orange-and-cream hard candies, dissolved in water.

Does that sound good? The Scottish seem to think so. It was a little too much for me—a little too simple, despite a complex roster of ingredients, a little sweet—but far be it from me to pass harsh judgement on another culture's favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

Tell me, what do you think of Irn-Bru? Scot or not, I'll be interested to hear your opinion.