Scottish soda Irn-Bru returns to “old and unimproved” formula

Illustration for article titled Scottish soda Irn-Bru returns to “old and unimproved” formula
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Few Americans have had an Irn-Bru unless they’ve traveled to Scotland, where the soda is considered perhaps the country’s proudest beverage—well, behind Scotch. Irn-Bru has been imported to the States to slake the thirst of dozens of fans of its singular flavor. That flavor is getting a slight change-up, though, as the company announced it will begin producing a limited edition of Irn-Bru based on the original 1901 recipe, which the company is billing as “old and unimproved” Irn-Bru.

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The deli where I worked in college is owned by two brothers of Scottish descent, which is why the deli stocked Scottish delicacies like haggis-flavored potato chips and Irn-Bru. I recall maybe three customers a month actually ordering Irn-Bru, but the ones who did were always over-the-top enthusiastic about it. They were thrilled, just thrilled, that we carried this orange-hued, loosely bubblegum-flavored soft drink. The deli also occasionally displayed Irn-Bru posters sent by the importer, as the company’s controversial advertising is almost as famous as its product. The deli charged a premium for this overseas delicacy—I guess those Scottish imports don’t come cheap—and homesick Scottish customers were more than willing to pay. The standard Irn-Bru boasts of its “indescribable and phenomenal taste” that comes from a combination of 32 flavors.

The limited-edition new-but-old formulation, Edinburgh Live reports, will follow a handwritten recipe from 1901, the year of Irn-Bru’s launch. The recipe had reportedly been stored in the company’s archives for more than a century. It’s assumed that, because of the age of this recipe, no living person had tasted it—until now. If you can get your hands on the “unimproved” Irn-Bru, please let us know if tastes any better than the standard one.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

When my wife and I went on honeymoon—a driving trip of the England & Scotland—one of the things that my wife wanted was to see what Irn-Bru was about.

My wife is not a soda drinker, generally (certainly not compared to me—see my post about Tango below). She is a reader...and it was a plot point in a book, where Irn-Bru was “what you drink the day after a night of drinking” in that book. I don’t know why that intrigued her...but she made it her quest to try Irn-Bru as part of her “get to know what Scotland is all about” goal.

So, when we drove to Edinburgh, we made a bee-line to a convenience store to grab a big can of Irn-Bru...but we didn’t open it right then and there. No, that Irn-Bru wasn’t for immediate gratification, it was going to be kept for a special occasion.

Instead, it came with us as we explored Edinburgh, drove up and around Loch Ness, down through the Trossachs...and it was still in the in-car cooler as we headed out of Scotland and over to York. We got caught up in a huge traffic jam on the M74...it was hot and we weren’t moving—with no way of getting off the highway any time soon.

We were thirsty...but we didn’t have many options in the cooler left. That’s when my wife said—well, let’s try the Irn-Bru! (Technically, we were still in Scotland at the time...so it seemed an appropriate way to send ourselves off.)

My wife—who loves her tea, who drinks her coffee black—took one sip and, without meaning to, made a noise that I’ve never heard her make before. A very back-of-the-throat uvula-rocking guttural growly moan that surprised even her.

Stale-orangey bubblegum...with a hint of toothpaste...that was her description. I tried it and I agreed. (I have a higher tolerance for orangey soft drinks than my wife—see my Tango comments below—but even I wasn’t interested in having any more than the sip I’d just taken.)

...and then what? We were stuck in the heat, in a monstrous traffic jam, with no hope of getting out of it any time soon..with this horrible taste in both of our mouths...and nothing to get rid of the taste.

It felt like hours before we were all guided down the shoulder to a side road to avoid a rather nasty wreck...and at our first opportunity, we dumped the now warmed-from-the-sun can of Irn-Bru and we refilled the cooler with lots of bottled water...

That was twelve years ago.

Now, all you have to do is mention Irn-Bru...and my wife will Pavlovianly make that same noise she made at her first sip...and shake her head violently at the memory.

...some things stick with you...and nothing sticks with you like disappointment.