Think you know Irn-Bru? Here are some things you (probably) didn't know

As iconic as whisky and as famous as haggis, Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-Bru, is widely enjoyed not just in the land of its birth but also across the globe.

Synonymous with Scottish culture, most Scots claim they couldn’t live without it – while others claim it is the best hangover cure around.

But how much do you really know about Irn-Bru? Here are 10 facts you (probably) didn’t know:

1. Irn-Bru was originally called Strachan’s Brew

The original firm was founded in Falkirk by Robert Barr in 1875, and initially sold ‘aerated waters’, as soft drinks were then called.

Robert’s son Andrew launched the original version of the iconic drink in 1901 under the name Strachan’s Brew.


It wasn’t always called Irn-Bru. Picture: TSPL

2. Barr’s dropped (most of) the vowels in 1946

The name for the drink was originally supposed to be Iron Brew, but proposed branding laws forced Barr’s, in July 1946, to alter the name as the soft drink is not actually brewed.

The new ‘Irn-Bru’ trademark was first registered on Thursday 18th July 1946.

Irn-Bru was born and the rest they say, is history.

Irn Bru

Robin Barr with an old ‘Iron Brew’ promotional poster, in 1971. Picture: TSPL

3. Irn-Bru’s advertising campaigns weren’t always so slick

In the early days of Irn-Bru, a long-running advertising campaign was undertaken in the form of ‘The Adventures of Ba-Bru and Sandy’ comic, lasting from the 1930s to the early 1970s.

Ba-Bru was inspired by the character of ‘Sabu’ in Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘Sabu The Elephant Boy’.

Ba-Bru and Sandy introduced generations of Scots to Barr’s Iron Brew and were the longest running advertising cartoon characters in history.

Along with the comic, a neon sign featuring Ba-Bru stood outside Glasgow Central Station for many years, eventually being removed in the late 1970s.

Irn-Bru burger ad attracted 589 complaints. Picture: AP

This more modern Irn-Bru ‘burger’ ad attracted 589 complaints. Picture: AP

4. Coca-Cola is the number one-selling soft drink nearly everywhere in the world – except in Scotland and the Middle East

Irn-Bru had dominated the Scottish market for over 100 years and although Coca-Cola has made inroads, it still sits a close second behind its Scottish rival.

Irn-Bru is also the third top-selling soft drink in the UK overall, with Pepsi and Coca-Cola occupying the top two spots.


Graham Barr raises a glass beside a cake to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Irn-Bru company in Glasgow in August 1980. Picture: TSPL

• Read more: AG Barr say most fans won’t notice Irn-Bru recipe change

5. Irn-Bru isn’t made from girders, but it does contain iron

The tagline ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ was used to sell Irn-Bru for several years in the 1980s.

Though the ‘girders’ were often thought to be a reference to the ‘rust’ colour of the drink, Irn Bru does have 0.002 per cent ammonium ferric citrate listed among its ingredients – a food additive containing iron hydroxide.

6. Only three people in the world know its recipe

Only three people in the whole world reportedly know the recipe for making Irn-Bru: Former company chairman Robin Barr; his daughter Julie Barr (the firm’s Company Secretary and Legal Affairs Manager) and one other A.G. Barr board director, whose identity remains confidential.


Robin Barr. Picture: TSPL

Some claim the trio will never travel on the same plane, just in case.

7. Irn-Bru is made not just in Scotland but several other countries around the world

Irn-Bru is manufactured in five factories in Russia alone, and has been produced under licence in Canada, the USA and Norway since 2008.

Irn bru russia

Picture: Irn Bru

8. Celebrities love Irn-Bru

Elvis Costello references Irn-Bru in his song ‘The St Stephen’s Day Murders’, with the lyrics: ‘There’ll be laughter and tears over Tia Marias, mixed up with that drink made from girders.’

Irn-Bru is also known for its apparently magical restorative powers as a hangover cure and this prompted Billy Connolly to write and release an ode dedicated to Mr and Mrs Barr “for saving my life on so many Sunday mornings” in his 1975 album ‘Cop Yer Whack For This’.

In the National Museum of Scotland’s range of exhibits selected by celebrities, Sir Sean Connery chose a crate of Irn-Bru.

9. Most people prefer to drink Irn-Bru from a glass bottle rather than a can


The Glass bottle still comes out on top. Picture: Irn-Bru

Voting by fans on the Irn-Bru website shows a particular favouritism for the glass vessel, with 71 per cent voting in favour of the bottle and only 29 per cent voting in favour of the can.

10. Irn-Bru has its own tartan


The Irn Bru tartan Picture: National Records of Scotland

Designed in 1969 as the Barr tartan, by Howe design, it was updated in 1996/97 and redesigned by Kinloch Anderson with the name changed to Irn-Bru tartan.

It was registered with the Scottish Tartans Society on 12th September 1997 and the colours are based on the iconic brand’s packaging.


Renfield Street in Glasgow, showing the Barr’s Irn-Bru lights in March 1984. Picture: TSPL


What happens when an English person drinks Irn-Bru?



About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things whisky-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over six years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink.

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