My favorite Scottish ‘BRU’

In Scotland, everything is better with a few bottles of IRN BRU ...
In Scotland, everything is better with a few bottles of IRN BRU ...

Being legal to drink about a year early has certainly changed the focus of my trips to the grocery store. But after about a week here in Edinburgh, the excitement wore off and the jet lag was lingering, thanks to a few nights of alcohol-diluted sleep.

I ventured to the soft drink aisle in search of my usual jolt, a six-pack of Diet Coke. A Scottish grocery store doesn’t seem all that different from an American grocery store, but if you look closely at the soft drink aisle, you will notice a subtle difference.

Where a Coca-Cola product would typically be promoted as the aisle’s most popular beverage, there sits a fluorescent orange bottle, with a blue cap and rather intimidating metallic title: IRN BRU. If you look a little closely at everywhere in Scotland that would seem to be Americanized, this subtlety is there too. In sandwich shops: “Add an IRN BRU to any six-inch sandwich for just 75 cents.” At tourist destinations, gift shops and cafes: “Ice-cold IRN BRU inside!” I haven’t been to a movie theater yet, but I’m willing to guess a nice cold IRN BRU makes any Scottish film better.

You get the idea: IRN BRU is kind of a big deal. So when my flatmates discovered they could be the ones to take my IRN BRU virginity, cameras were broken out, and a huddle formed around my seat in the common room as one flatmate’s boyfriend gloriously returned from Tesco with a one-liter bottle of the fluorescent liquid.

The room hushed with the exception of a few camera flashes and video recorder beeps as I took my first-ever sip of Scotland’s favorite soft drink.

When I first unscrewed the top, a semi-familiar scent emerged from the effervescence of the beverage — a bit like the bubble gum-flavored medicine I used to take as a kid. The first sip was sweeter than that vile substance, however; more like Triaminic, if I may indulge myself in the pediatric medicine comparisons just a moment longer.

But a simple reference to Triaminic doesn’t quite do IRN BRU justice. Perhaps it tastes like aged Sprite. Or it might be more like ever ambiguous fruit flavor of a “Tutti-Frutti” Jelly Belly, except fizzy. Maybe my opinion is colored by it’s bright orange hue, but IRN BRU could be described as a cross between orange soda and … I’m not quite sure what.

That’s the beauty of IRN BRU. You can’t really describe it. It’s one of a kind — a flavor you would use to place other tastes, but not something that can be categorized itself. The only way to experience IRN BRU is to taste it yourself. Yet another reason to visit scenic Scotland.


Image source: Alex Matthews, Daily Cal