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from Edinburgh, Scotland

photo LEFT: Irn-Bru at Kebab Mahal, a friendly little restaurant and takeaway on Nicolson Square near the University of Edinburgh.

'Scotland's Other National Drink' is 'made from girders'

Coca-cola may be better-known, but in Scotland, Irn-Bru (pronounced "Iron Brew") is the teetotal tipple of choice. The orange-colored soft drink from Glasgow has been a staple of the Scottish diet since 1901, and you should try at least one bottle or can--preferably chilled, without ice--when you visit Scotland.

Irn-Bru looks like orange soda, but it has little in common with Fanta or Orangina. It has a unique and subtle flavor that Neil Wilson, the author of Lonely Planet Edinburgh, describes as a bouquet of "bubble gum, barley sugar and something vaguely citrus, maybe tangerine?". The list of ingredients reveals little about the flavor's origins, except for mentions of citric acid, caffeine, quinine, and ammonium ferric citrate (the iron in "iron brew").

One of my sons has a simpler description: "nasty." I love the stuff myself, so maybe Irn-Bru appeals to those of us who prefer ale and single-malt whisky to mainstream sody pop.

You can try Irn-Bru at most restaurants, pubs, and fast-food shops, and a diet version is available. Other manufacturers produce imitation "iron brews," but I recommend that you accept no substitutes. If a bartender or waitress tries to fob you off with a knockoff, make it clear that you ordered a "Bru," not a generic "brew."

A tip for American Irn-Bru drinkers:

Irn-Bru is illegal in the United States because it contains food colorings that aren't approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So if you're an American who'd like to bring a few bottles home, watch out for the USDA's Bru-sniffing dogs at the airport--or order a reformulated American version of the beverage from Irn-Bru USA, an independent distributor that was founded by a Scottish expat.

Irn-Bru links

The official iron brew Web site is from A.B. Barr, the soft drink's manufacturer, and it requires a Flash-enabled browser.

Wikipedia: Irn-Bru
The free encyclopedia's article covers Irn-Bru history, packaging, mythology, and other topics.

More about Edinburgh and Scotland:
Edinburgh home page at Europe for Visitors

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