Like tartan and haggis. lrn Bru has
i become part ofScottish culture. It is
one of those things which comedians
use to identify Scottish audiences.
like old-firm matches and Morningside accents. Billy Connolly
even dedicated an album to it. As the ; French use vin ordinaire. we use Bru to accompany everything from fish
suppers to kebabs. to chicken vindaloo. as well as on its own as a
; refreshing drink and for medicinal
This is not to say that any old ‘iron
: brew‘ will do. No.sir. It has to be Barrs‘ Irn Bru. The true Bru fan will
only drink the stuff in the distinctive bottles with the idiosyncratic
j spelling. regarding other brands as mere pretenders to be resorted to in
only the direst emergency. For
5 anyone who has ever woken up
: thick-headed and furry-tongued.
« groping for the all-important
i lifesaving elixor. it must seem that it
is produced by strange. mystical people in possession of the secret of life from some magical kingdom just offthe Gallowgate. This. in fact. is not far from the truth.
A.G. Barr and Co. Ltd — lately A.G. Barr plc — has its origins in Falkirk. where. in 1830. one Robert Barr set up in business as a cork-cutter. All went well until about 1880 when the bottle fell out of the market due to the rise in the
[importation of machine-cut corks
4The List 10 — 23 January
from the continent. It was this Victorian version of new technology which prompted him to switch to the manufacture ofsoft drinks. In 1887. his son. also called Robert .moved to Glasgow where he set up shop in the Great Eastern Road. It was when his brother also moved to Glasgow that AC. Barr and Co. was formed in 1904. Although Barrs went public. it has always retained ‘a strong family connection‘. as present-day Managing Director. Robin Barr told me. Today Barr‘s. with an annual turnover ofsome £34.5m. have a healthy slice of the annual soft drinks industry total of£1 .250m. They have a production capacity of 2 10 million litres per year and employ 1.200 people as far afield as Kirkcaldy and Walthamstow.
It came as a bit of a shock when Mr Barr told me that Barr's did not actually invent lrn Bru. That distinction is claimed by an English company! Burrows and Sturgess of Derbyshire claim to have invented it in 1890. although Mr Barr is somewhat dubious about their claim. He told me that it was a popular drink around the turn of the century. and Barr's first produced it in 1901. It subsequently lost popularity in
England. but in Scotland went from
‘ strength to strength. in the process
becoming more and more linked to the Barr‘s name. because. as Mr
I Barr said:
‘As you can see from the illustration. Irn Bru did not always have its distinctive spelling. In common with everyone else. Barr‘s used to market it as plain Iron Brew.
The change of name is comparatively
recent and the result of‘a fortunate accident.‘Mr Barr explains. ‘During the second world war. all soft drink production was centralised - that is to say nationalised — by the government. Only a certain number of approved recipes were allowed to be produced. Since the decision was taken from London. Irn Bru was not one of these approved recipes; so it was not made during the war.‘ When. once the war was over. Barr‘s were planning to re-introduce Bru to a thirsty Scottish public. a nasty rumour swept through the whole of the food manufacturing industry: it was claimed that the new. Labour government were planning legislation which would ban any food product from using a name which was not literally true.
‘With hindsight. it seems that the government had enough to do without doing this. but it was believed to be true at the time. This meant that we would be in trouble because Iron Brew. as it was then. was not actually brewed. So we changed to the phonetic spelling in the hope that it would get us round this legislation.‘ In the event. of course. this law was never passed.
Made in Scotland from girders? Graham Caldwell goes behind Barr’s to investigate .
but Barr‘s were quick to see that they had seized the public imagination with the change ofspelling. so they swiftly copyrighted the new name in June. 1946. much to the chagrin of their competitors who have since had , to stick with the traditional. though less gripping. Iron Brew.
So. what goes into this legendary beverage? The label does not give much away: Water. Fructose.
Carbon Dioxide. Citric Acid. Flavourings. Artificial Sweetener. (I'm getting calorie conscious in my old age). Preservative E211. Caffeine. Colours E1 1013102 E 123. Ammonium Ferric Citrate. Contains approx 0.44mg Iron per 100 ml. Clearly this does not tell the true story. surely the secret must be in
that nebulous word ‘ﬂavourings‘. This is where the mystery starts. Mr Barr confided: ‘the only people who are allowed to mix the compound — the magic ingredient — are my cousin (another Mr Barr) or myself. If. by some unfortunate quirk offate. it . happens that we are both hit by the . same bus. there is a copy ofthe recipe secreted away in a bank vault somewhere — so Irn Bru won‘t be lost to the world.‘
There are a few people about — myself included - who may be described as Bru Snobs; they refuse to touch the stuff unless it comes in the traditional glass bottle with the wavy stripes. It is a view with which