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I know, you can’t imagine there could even be five flavors of soda that are not currently available on the shelves of every American store. And yet there are, and some of them are massively popular too. See how many you can find in your town.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Or, more appropriately, the lfnt in the rm.
Irn Bru is the single biggest selling soft drink in Scotland. It outsells Coke, it outsells Pepsi, it outsells… everything. And yet it has a flavor that is quite hard to describe. It’s sort of acidic, metallic and tangy, and slightly unnatural, as if it comes from a big steel vat that has been left to corrode a bit. But, y’know, tasty. Its status as a hangover cure is legendary and entirely justified.
This is an easier one, in that this is a drink that actually tastes as if it is made from fruit. Because it is. Like a good portion of the drinks on this list, Vimto originally began as a health cordial made from the juice of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants, flavored with herbs, hence the vim. It’s now available as anything from fizzy pop to popsicles.
Described brilliantly on the Tizer Wikipedia page as “red-colored soft drink,” Tizer is made by Barr, who also makes Irn Bru, and is similarly tough to describe as a taste sensation. It’s sort of cherry-ish, but with extra added… something. It also comes from a health drink of the early 20th century, with the power to aid digestion—Tizer the appetizer, according to the adverts—but now the only notable digestive benefit lies in its ability to make children belch.
Yet another healthy libation, this time made of glucose (and originally called glucozade), Lucozade used to be the kind of drink you’d only buy to take to a poorly friend. It even came in glass bottles wrapped in yellow cellophane, as if the contents were particularly medicinal. It has more recently been marketed as a drink for athletes, to keep their sugar and fluid levels up. And the yellow cellophane is no more. Not every innovation is progress.
The soft drink equivalent of penicillin, Ribena was accidentally created while Dr. Vernon Charley was investigating processing techniques to create fruit syrups for milkshakes at the Long Ashton Agriculture and Horticulture Research Station in Bristol. Having managed to create a blackcurrant cordial with high levels of vitamin C instead, production was taken on by local manufacturers HW Carter in 1936. Fresh fruit being hard to come by during the war years thanks to a blockade by German U-boats, Ribena earned the encouragement of the British government, and its place in the nation’s kitchens. Of course, it’s available as a fizzy drink now and proudly wears its ability to prevent scurvy as a badge of pride.
OK, it doesn’t actually SAY that on the packaging, but have you ever met a Brit with scurvy? Exactly.
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Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic