Following World War II, British legislation required that products be labeled to reflect their actual contents. Scotland’s “Iron Brew” soda, invented in 1901, quickly came under fire. This was not because it didn’t contain iron (it did, and still does), but because it wasn’t brewed. The A.G. Barr company was forced to rename their beverage “Irn-Bru.” The change didn’t faze Scottish drinkers: Today, the soft drink outsells Coca-Cola in its native home.
Irn-Bru’s old slogan, “Made in Scotland from Girders,” is a testament to the drink’s inclusion of ammonium ferric citrate, a food additive containing iron hydroxide. The resulting flavor has been likened to a cream soda mixed with orange Life Savers and a hint of rust. (Whether or not the ingredients actually include girders is unconfirmed, as the recipe is a closely guarded secret.)
In his song “St. Stephen’s Day Murders,” Elvis Costello mentions a cocktail consisting of “that drink made from girders” mixed with Jamaican coffee liqueur. While a blend of ferric-citrus sweetness and liqueur might appeal to some, few would argue that an Irn-Bru cocktail could compete with whisky, Scotland’s first national beverage. In Irn-Bru’s defense, the fizzy orange beverage is touted as a hangover cure. And while some insist that whisky can also get you through a rough Sunday morning, at least Irn-Bru doesn’t cause the problem it claims to solve.
Need to Know
Irn-Bru is sold parts of Europe, Africa, North America, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia, but it's mostly enjoyed in Scotland. You can also buy it online.
Visit Scotland with Atlas Obscura Trips
Poetry and Music in the Scottish Lowlands
See the lowlands through the eyes of one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets, exploring old port towns and ancient fortresses, sipping single malt whisky, and wandering the breathtaking landscapes that inspired the beloved bard.
Where to Try It
Galco’s Soda Pop Stop5702 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90042, United States
This shop boasts 500 flavors of soda (see Atlas entry.)