Taste of travel: Irn-Bru reduces sugar and loses some local cred

What would fictional Scottish copper John Rebus think of the reformulated Scottish soda Irn-Bru — known as the “other national drink” of Scotland — with less sugar? Och!

The British government just slapped a new tax on sugar to help fight rising obesity rates. The United Kingdom — just like the United States — has a big obesity problem.

In Scotland, not everyone is happy with the change to its sugar-laden national treasure.

On a visit last fall to Scotland, I tried Irn-Bru (pronounced ‘Iron Brew’) under the original recipe. It tasted just like bubble gum, but it also was too sweet for me. My traveling companion, however, loved it.

The taste of travel

Trying local foods and drinks of other cities and countries is a one of the great joys of travel. It’s part of the experience of learning about different cultures and how people live. Many people plan trips around wine tasting, beer tours or top French restaurants.

In addition to Irn-Bru, I’ve drank fresh coconut milk from a coconut in Hawaii, tea made from plants grown on a nearby hillside in Taiwan and a hot ginger-lemon concoction that cured my ills in New Zealand.

Visitors to the United States may want to try a Slurpee, Dr Pepper soda or eggnog. They also may find that chili in Cincinnati is very different than in Texas.

In March, the maker of Irn-Bru cut sugar in the drink by more than half (to 4.7 grams per 100 milliliters) to avoid the new tax and a price hike. The reduction of sugar and the addition of the sweetener Aspartame lowered the calories in each can of soda — to about 65 from just below 140.

The UK’s obesity rates have soared so that it’s now the most overweight nation in Western Europe, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). About 27 percent of UK adults are obese.

The legend of Irn-Bru

Americans may not be too familiar with Irn-Bru, which dates to at least 1901, even though it’s exported to the United States.

Barr's Irn Bru on Falkirk Town Heritage Trail
The Town Heritage Trail in Falkirk, Scotland, features this plaque. Falkirk is the birthplace of A.G. Barr, the maker of Irn-Bru. (Mark Begbie, Wikimedia Commons)

In Scotland, Irn-Bru is so popular that it’s called the “other national drink,” after Scotch, and it frequently pops up in popular Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s crime series featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus. In the books, Rebus swears Irn-Bru is the best cure for a hangover and drinks copious amounts of it.

In addition to its unique taste and high sugar content, Irn-Bru stands out for its bright orange color, its vibrant orange-and-blue labels and oft-controversial advertisements. (See my photo at top.)

Scottish Irn-Bru fans reportedly are scouring shops for the full-sugar version and stockpiling it. Some fans have made their outrage public: Ryan Allen of Ayr, Scotland, started the Hands Off Our Irn-Bru campaign, a petition to save the traditional recipe and Stephen McLeod of Glasgow started the Save Real Irn-Bru campaign to protect the nation’s iconic drink.

Will people warm to the new recipe? Perhaps.

For me, I probably should make another trip to Scotland for a taste comparison — for reporting purposes.

Trip to Waco, Texas, reveals old-timey wintry drink: hot Dr Pepper (really)

What better way to warm frozen fingers with frigid temperatures across much of the country than a hot drink.

Try hot Dr. Pepper. Yup, I said hot soda.

It sounds weird, but it’s tasty — and I don’t even like cold Dr Pepper. It was offered when I visited the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, so I had to try it. When heated, the distinctive flavor of Dr Pepper becomes a delicious herbal tea.

Today, you can still get hot Dr Pepper Frosty’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, even though it’s not on the menu. You’ll have to hurry because the seasonal drink is served only from November to February, according to Lauren Schlee, the museum’s visitor services coordinator. It costs 99 cents a cup (plus tax), she said.

Frosty's Soda Shop menu
Note the Dr Pepper Sundae on Frosty’s Soda Shop’ menu at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.

If you want to try hot Dr Pepper at home, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop pot, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon in a mug. Look for Dr Pepper in glass bottles that’s made with real sugar.

It turns out the drink has been around longer than I have. A former president of Dr Pepper Co. invented HOT Dr Pepper in 1958 to offer a drink that would warm up people during the winter. It was a popular holiday drink through the 1970s and the company continued to promote HOT Dr Pepper sporadically after the 1980s.

HOT Dr Pepper harkens back to the roots of the nation’s oldest major soda as a curative.

“It’s important to note that when we think of a health drink today, it is much different than what would have been considered healthy more than 100 years ago,” said Rachael Nadeau Johnson, collections manager at the museum. “Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, sodas of all kinds were used for their supposed health benefits.”

Back then, the Dr Pepper company used slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality.” It also created the “Old Doc” logo — a country doctor with a monocle and top hat, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is credited with inventing the recipe for Dr Pepper in 1885, according to the museum. The formula, according to Johnson, is a secret.

The Dr Pepper Museum is about 90 minutes from Dallas by car. (GoogleMaps)[/caption]Dr Pepper’s recipe reportedly contains 23 natural and artificial fruit flavors that provide its unique flavor, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website. The company and the museum are not connected.

The museum, which opened in 1991, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of soft drink memorabilia, including less-known names like Kickapoo Joy Juice and Vernors. The museum entrance fee is $10 for adults; less for students and seniors. It’s free for children age four and younger.

You can visit Frosty’s without entering the museum, but both are worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Map of Dr Pepper Museum, Waco
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Dallas to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. (GoogleMaps)