Scotland's 'Other' National Drink

IRN BRU, a Sweet Local Soda, Outsells Even Coke

Shift supervisor Mike McCabe

Shift supervisor Mike McCabe oversees the making of IRN BRU at the AG Barr factory in Cumbernauld, Scotland. Susan Stone, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Susan Stone, NPR News
IRN BRU on the factory conveyor belt

Bottles of IRN BRU roll by on a factory conveyor. In Scotland, the soda outsells Coca-Cola. Susan Stone, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Susan Stone, NPR News
IRN BRU logo

The IRN BRU logo. Courtesy IRN BRU hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy IRN BRU

It's no surprise that whisky is the national drink of Scotland. But you probably haven't heard of the beverage that claims the title of the other national drink. It's not beer, or a nice cup of tea. The soft drink IRN BRU (iron brew) is orange in color, achingly sweet, and as NPR's Susan Stone discovered on a recent trip to Glasgow, it ranks right up there with plaid, thistles and shortbread in the hearts and minds of Scots.

"Anyone in Glasgow will proudly tell you what might be the most astounding fact about IRN BRU: It outsells Coca-Cola in Scotland," Stone says. "You'll see IRN BRU in the hands of grannies and teens, empties on the side of the road, overpriced bottles in airports."

The drink was first created in 1901, and it hasn't it hasn't really changed since. The recipe is top secret, says factory shift manager Mike McCabe.

"Only two people know the recipe to the essence, what we call the brew essence, which is the main ingredient to brew — Mr. Robin Barr, the chair, and one other director who no one knows who that is," McCabe says.

All the essence, or syrup, is mixed at the AG Barr factory in Cumbernauld, about 15 miles outside Glasgow.

"Just add water, sugar, citric acid, a little actual iron and a lot of affection and you have a homegrown hero," Stone says.

The unusual and yes, slightly metallic flavor even attracts more refined palates. Chef Nick Biok, originally from Australia, has integrated the soda into his recipes.

"I used IRN BRU for syrups, in mousses and also in a sorbet," Biok says. "One was an IRN BRU and whisky sorbet, which went down a treat with the punters, and was also great for any tourists that came, 'cause they got a double whammy of true Scottish cuisine in one go, and it was great."

True to its status as a Scottish legend, IRN BRU even has its own tartan of shocking orange and bright royal blue. And yes, there is an IRN BRU kilt.

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