History: Put on your manliest kilt because Irn-Bru has made it to Five Star Soda. It’s the unofficial soft drink of Scotland, laddie. Invented in 1901 by Barr Soft Drinks, it contains 32 different flavors and is made with cane sugar. It does not, however, come in a glass bottle. A little part of the craft soda enthusiast in me died telling you that. According to Great Scot International Vice President James Wilson, only two people, the owner and his daughter, know the recipe. “You can’t really describe it,” he says, his voice almost puzzled searching for an answer. Good. This should be easy then. Irn-Bru has faced some challenges getting into the North American market. In Scotland, the original formula uses the coloring agent Ponceau 4R, an additive that is banned by the FDA in America and Canada. I know you’re not reading those, so what that really means is in Scotland Irn-Bru is a little bit darker with more of a reddish hue as opposed to the bright rusty orange color in the American version. Irn-Bru is the title sponsor for the Scottish Premier League. Wilson says in Scottish grocery stores Coca-Cola takes up about half of the shelf space. The rest is just Irn-Bru. They’re serious about it. The drink started as a tonic and to this day still contains Quinine, a flavoring agent typically used in tonic water and something that helps settle the stomach. It also contains .002% Ferric Ammonium Citrate, which is where the “iron” flavor comes in. Irn-Bru is even rumored to be a hangover cure. “You either love it or you hate it,” adds Wilson. Let’s find out.
Where to get: You can purchase Irn-Bru on Amazon or The Scottish Grocer. Irn-Bru is also distributed nation-wide in the United States by Great Scot International in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Wilson, pretty much any grocer with a British or UK section should likely carry it.
Nose: Bubble gum; smells very reminiscent of bubble gum cream sodas.
Taste: Bubble gum; citrus; bitterness. Though this smells and even tastes a bit like bubblegum, Irn-Bru definitely isn’t a cream soda. It’s a wave of citrus with a bite from across the pond. The flavor profile here is in three parts. First you get an orange-infused bubble gum taste that quickly evaporates and is followed by a lighter, slightly creamy orange citrus. What comes in last is bitterness. It likely has something to do with that Ferric Ammonium Citrate. That sounds good for you, doesn’t it? The sharp, bitter citrus stays on the back of your tongue a little too long for me. It’s fairly acidic, even for a citrus soda. The lads and lassies from Scotland apparently love this. It’s certainly different than American sodas.
Finish: A tart citrus that sinks itself into the back of your tongue. Leaves a little bit of an acidic taste in the back of the throat. Could be harsh for first-time drinkers of Irn-Bru.
Rating: It’s hard to nail down a rating for this soda. Its taste can be overly harsh on the first few sips, especially on the finish. It’s true. This is a love it or hate it beverage. So naturally, we’re somewhere in the middle. Sharp, acidic citrus stays in the mouth too long to make this a top-tier soda. Could just be a cultural thing. I’ve been told Americans definitely love their sweets and sugars more than the rest of the world. The initial orange bubblegum citrus flavor is fairly unique and pretty palatable. It just doesn’t last nearly as long as the tart acidity and bitter citrus undertones you get near the end. Some of that probably comes from the Quinine. How can I describe this in a way you’ll understand? Hmmm. This is like when you go on a date with that really hot dude who’s got those alluring exotic eyes, but then you start dating and realize he smells kind of like a donkey. He’s fun for a little bit, but even after he goes home, he lingers. In all seriousness, this is pretty interesting. With flavors not typically found in North America, I’d recommend giving Irn-Bru a shot simply because it’s incredibly popular in Scotland, and you should ingest some of that culture to keep yourself well-rounded. Just be careful, looks can be deceiving.