Alex Massie

Made in Scotland, From Girders

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Hats-off to the Wall Street Journal for featuring the Amber Nectar of the Gods (Fizzy Pop Division) on their front page yesterday to report on how Barr's are responding to the latest piece of interference from the meddlers at the Food Standards Agency:

For nearly half a century, the man behind "Scotland's other national drink" has been Mr. Barr. Since 1961, the six-foot-six Mr. Barr has borne the responsibility of blending the Irn-Bru recipe first concocted by his great-grandfather and great-uncle 109 years ago.

But these days, Mr. Barr's drink is threatened. The U.K. Food Standards Agency is pushing British food-and-beverage makers to remove artificial coloring agents that may cause hyperactivity in children. Those include Sunset Yellow and red Ponceau 4R, the so-called azo dyes that give Irn-Bru its hyper-orange sheen.

Though the family recipe will remain the same, the tasteless dye that gives Irn-Bru its color is to be replaced. AG Barr. the company Mr. Barr's family started, has already removed the dyes from other drinks it makes. But it has taken extra time to formulate the new color of Irn-Bru, realizing that any slight change in its complexion could provoke a national outcry.

Indeed, the color and recipe of the drink haven't changed since it was developed in 1901, Mr. Barr says, and Irn-Bru's fans will be dismayed if the company gets the new color wrong.

Indeed we will. Though if Irn-Bru, the dentist's friend, causes or even could cause hyperactivity that's not something much in evidence in these parts. It's made from girders for God's sake.

As is always the way with this kind of piece, it's all written in that pleasingly dry, even arch American style that, as a general rule, produces better writing than anything you find in the "important" stories. Thus, Bru enjoys a "maverick reputation" which, on the surface seems an odd thing for a soft drink to manage.

Then again, every so often one hears that Coca-Cola is or has overtaken Irn-Bru in sales in Scotland or that Atlanta has sent a dedicated taskforce to Scotland to put the local upstart in its place and suddenly Bru-drinking becomes a matter of patriotic necessity. It used to be said that Scotland was just about the only place on earth in which neither Coke nor Pepsi were market leader but, to be honest, that's one of those things that's too good to check. Which is perhaps why the Journal doesn't quite make any such claim.

And of course the advertising has always been canny, feeding on the notion of a plucky indigenous underdog battling the multinational invaders from America while also flattering Scotland's image of itself (and particularly Glasgow's self-conception). Here's a famous ad from the 1970s for instance, complete with the

immortal

excellent line: "Irn-Bru: a soft drink for hard men."

And here's a more recent spoof of High School Musical or something, designed to have fun with the Americans - while embracing their cultural tropes of course - while reminding the kids that, when push comes to shove, the patriotic thing to do is to drink your Bru.

And this one, nicked from The Snowman, is just terrific while also, I suppose, containing some kind of "life lesson" if that's your kind of thing.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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