Scotland's Other National Drink

I am a huge fan of Mountain Dew but when I was living in Scotland I couldn't find Mountain Dew anywhere. I was in the depths of Mt. Dew withdrawal when I discovered Irn-Bru.

Pronounced "Iron Brew", this delightful orange colored drink was created in
Scotland and is manufactured out of Glasgow, Scotland. Its flavor is really hard to describe, it's not like any Pepsi or Coke products I've ever tasted. One of my friends described it as having kind of a bubble gum flavor and that's about the best description I've heard.

I read up on Irn-Bru a little bit and found a few interesting things. Apparently it's recipe is a huge secret, known only by two other people, with an additional copy of the recipe kept in a Swiss bank vault. It was first produced in 1901 and was called Iron Brew, but in 1946 the name was changed to Irn-Bru because the drink really wasn't brewed.

It's the most popular drink in Scotland and the UK, but Coke and Pepsi products are giving it fierce competition. When McDonald's first opened in in Glasgow it didn't serve Irn-Bru. The Scots picketed them until they included it on their menu.

Unfortunately, Irn-Bru is listed as a banned substance by the US FDA so you won't see it on US shelves anytime soon. The reason it's banned is because it contains a carcinogenic colouring called Ponceau 4R and Sunset Yellow FCF. There is one company in the US that imports it but they alter the ingredients slightly to fit within FDA standards. I haven't tasted the US version so I'm not sure how different the taste is, but it would be interesting to try.
The Irn-Bru commercials are really excellent, here's a few for you to check out:

In the meantime, pipe on!


Man vs. Scotland

There is an excellent tv show that I enjoy watching called Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel. It stars a Brit named Bear (yes that's his real name) Grylls who was in the British special forces, climbed Mt. Everest and was part of the first group of people to circumnavigate Great Britain on jet skis. There are loads of other 'firsts' that he's completed, but basically he's the ultimate outdoorsman. Each episode of the show features him getting dropped in different survival situations with a minimum amount of survival gear. He then shows you how to survive and get yourself to safety. The best thing about the show is that he actually shows you how to deal with situations like getting out of quicksand, falling in a crevasse etc.

Recently he went to the Scottish Highlands, specifically Cairngorm National Park to show how a lost hiker might survive. The Highlands are a rugged area of northwestern Scotland. They are north of the Highland Boundary fault line. A small fraction of Scotland's overall population lives here but it's beautiful natural scenery is a huge draw to hikers and tourists. Cairngorm National Park is classified as an Arctic landscape and 30 people die there every year.

Some notable things on this episode include when he shows how to get out of a bog and when he uses moss to purify some water. This probably wasn't the most dangerous episode I've seen him in, but it was neat to see him in an area of the world that I think people might realistically find themselves in. And it's also an area that people don't typically think of as being very dangerous. Bear keeps a blog and the Man vs. Wild website is worth checking out too.

If you're a reality tv fan this show is definitely worth watching. Bear is very charismatic and he does some pretty extreme things, so it's definitely not for the faint of heart.

Enjoy, and pipe on!


Hot Pipes

It's beastly hot here today, so hot it feels like you're opening the door to a steamless sauna. This got me thinking about what hot weather issues there are with the bagpipes.

One issue that I know hot weather affects is tuning the bagpipes. Tuning the bagpipes basically involves shortening or lengthening the drones (those 3 stocks that stick out of the bag), and messing around with the reed that's in the chanter (the chanter being that thing you blow on).

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm pretty new to playing the bagpipes but I've learned two things about tuning: they have to be tuned well, and it's not easy for a newbie like me to tune them. I have a really hard time figuring out if what I'm playing is sharp or flat and even if I can figure that out, it's still tough for me to fine tune it. Even with a snazzy tuning device it's still not the easiest thing in the world.

I also know that the temperature you are tuning your bagpipes in also plays a part. If you tune them in an air conditioned room and than go outside into the heat to play them, they will often go out of tune. It seems that in hot and dry weather the pitch will be all over the place, moisture can even be lost, and the drones can potentially stop. And I know from experience that once you've gotten them tuned you want to try to stay in the shade to keep them cool.

Over on Andrew Lenz's web site he recommends using talcum powder or the powdered chalk to help with sticky fingers on the chanter. I've never had this problem but I think if I played outside today I would!

The hottest weather in Scotland is in July and August when it's 19 degrees Celsius or 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit so I don't imagine that they had to deal with too many hot and humid weather issues.

Pipe on!


A Bagpipe Diet

I've often wondered when I'm playing the bagpipes how many calories I'm burning. Other people in my band have asked this question too, especially after a marathon session of playing on St. Patrick's Day or in an especially lengthy parade. Obviously the physical act of marching and playing helps, but the fact that often times after parades pipers gather at certain fine eating establishments probably hurts.

But how many calories am I burning if I'm just standing still and playing? Is there even a way that this can be measured?

I don't really know, but I did find some interesting health and bagpipe posts. Over on the Real Life Forums somebody posted that taking up the bagpipes can help people who suffer from asthma.

I also found a video of a guy riding on his unicycle and playing the bagpipes, he doesn't do this until over half the video is done but it's well worth the wait...and I'm positive he's burning some major calories doing that! I've posted the video below.

I found a post saying that a 1/2 hour of highland dancing will cause a 100 pound child to burn 149 calories.

But I found nothing that would allow me to measure my own calorie loss while playing the pipes.

However I suppose if I hopped on my (non-existent) unicycle and warmed up while riding to the parade spot, played while marching in a parade and than Highland danced my way home (skipping the post-parade festivities of course) I'd find myself shedding pounds quite rapidly.

Pipe on!


Harry Potter Plays the Bagpipes

Okay, maybe he doesn't really play the bagpipes, but the story is set in the UK so I figure with a little bit of stretching I can make the new Potter book fit in with my blog. No worry's, I'm not going to post any spoilers here, just some general merriment and a bit of bereavement over the ending of the Potter era. Well, I guess it's not really done yet, there are still some movies left so just the end of the written word Potter era.

I went to Walmart a little after midnight to get my book, decided not to fight the kiddies at Barnes and Nobles. But the line at Walmart stretched out the door and a half hour in length. With my prize clutched in my hands I couldn't resist going over to Barnes and Nobles anyway, if only to gloat to those standing in line at 1am that ha ha! I'd gotten my book a half hour earlier.

I finished my book Sunday night and in my humble and purposely vague opinion, it was the best one yet, definitely (in staying with the theme of this blog) two pipes up! That's it, that's all I'll say about the book.

I did a random Internet search on any specific connections between Harry Potter and Scotland and there are loads. For one things, they offer specialized Harry Potter tours to England and Scotland looks like both the England and Scotland tours are sold out through August. Actually, the England tour looks a bit better in terms of seeing different areas where the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Some highlights include London Zoo (where the escaping snake scene was filmed in movie #1), Kings Cross Station, Australia House on the Strand (Gringotts Wizarding Bank), Charing Cross (Diagon Alley), and Christ Church College (interior Hogwarts scenes). Than I think you'd have to ditch the tour for a day or so and head over to Alnwick Castle where a lot of the exterior Hogwarts shots were filmed.

Actually, even if you can't make one of these tours it's pretty interesting to read about all the places in England and Scotland where the movie was filmed.

Plus, according to a USA Today article,J.K. Rowlings has all sorts of connections to Scotland.
She has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland since 1994 and calls it her home. The article speculates that Edinburgh castle provided inspiration for Potter's world, and in the real world, several Edinburgh establishments saw J.K. Rowling working on the Potter series. Having been to Edinburgh I agree that one couldn't help but be inspired by this amazing city.

I'll miss you Harry Potter!
Pipe on!


Pipers Unplugged-The Red Hot Chilli Pipers

You'll notice on the bottom of this screen that I posted a video link to a group I found yesterday called the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. I found them when I was doing a search on bagpipes at youtube.com. The videos are all from a stint they did on a British variety show called When Will I Be Famous. Actually the show itself looks neat, every week acts battle it out against each other and a group of 101 pre-registered viewers vote from home. The final two acts compete in a live show and the winner is voted on by viewers at home. And of course they win a bunch of money and their 15+ minutes of fame. It's an amazing act.

Even if bagpipes aren't your thing and you wandered onto my blog looking for information on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you should check them out! Bagpipes are a tough instrument to play but these guys make it look easy. Accompanied by a guitar and drums they rock out to We Will Rock You...yes, on bagpipes. The band formed in 2005 and is loaded with talent So far it it looks like they just have one CD and you can buy one on ebay or also on Amazon for about $15. And it looks like most of their gigs are in the UK, but hopefully they'll hop the pond and you can find them blasting away at a concert near you.

Their music shows that bagpiping isn't just about the traditionally Scottish or bagpipe music. There are lots of other options too. When I was out performing with my band at our pub crawl on St. Patrick's Day we had one bar play AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top (If you Wanna Rock 'n Roll), which features a few bars of bagpipe music in it, a couple of us played along and the crowd went crazy (of course they were pretty crazy already but still!).

A while back I was trying to look around on the Internet for good nontraditional bagpipe music and ran across this list on Wikipedia. I was actually surprised at some of the songs listed because I knew them, but I didn't know that part of the instrumental was bagpipes. I was able to get a bunch of the tunes and particularly liked Dropkick Murphy's Amazing Grace + electric guitar arrangement.

Enjoy the video and Pipe on!


I can go to Scotland in my living room!

I am always after good web sites that remind me of the time I spent in Scotland. I just ran across the BBC Pipeline which features a program hosted by Gary West. I just listened to the most recent program and if ever I wanted to vicariously tour around talking with Scottish pipers, this is it! Gary goes around Scotland talking to major players in the piping world and interspersed throughout are lovely piping tunes. He mentioned several towns and areas in Scotland that I've actually been to. And of course it was very pleasant listening to a bit of authentic Scottish brogue. If you've never been to Scotland, this is a very nice way to kick back in your easy chair and pretend you're there for a bit.

If you'd like to add a bit of the visual to your imaginary trip to Scotland check out the Monarch of the Glen series, but use it cautiously as spoilers abound, especially since it just finished its seventh season...see, I just clicked on a link trying to find the spelling of one of the characters and a picture revealed a spoiler for season 7, grrrr. But these are the sacrifices I make for my blog. You can get seasons 1-6 through Netflix but WARNING this show is very addictive...resist the urge to call in sick to work, binge on Mountain Dew, driving yourself into a sleep deprived state of euphoria filled with visions of the dashing young Laird Archie, the stunning scenery of Glenbogle, the wise advice of Golly and the sudden indescribable urge to sell all your possessions and run about the Highlands of Scotland. Did I say how awesome this show is??

Pipe on!

A Pipers First Post

This is my first post, numero uno. While I am a very multi-faceted person, my focus here will be on my current favorite hobby, playing the Great Highland Bagpipe. Shhhh...I'm not Scottish! But I try to do everything I can to get people to believe that I am including marrying a Scot, living in Scotland for a time, trying to appear interested in the Celtic soccer team, eating Haggis, quoting Robbie Burns (famous Scottish poet) at random moments, and of course playing the instrument that, love it or leave it, is the ultimate of all things Scottish. That's about enough for my first post, I don't want to ruin all the surprises that I'm sure will unfold themselves in future posts. Thanks for reading and Pipe On!
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