How a fake beer brand took over UK pubs

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As a beer drinker for most of my adult life, I’ve seen a decipherable shift in the culture. 20 years ago, craft beer was effectively non-existent and the only real alternative to your boilerplate lagers was either Guinness or flat, brown water. So, for most of my twenties, I became “the Guinness guy” and became something of an unofficial brand ambassador until the great craft implosion took off. That’s a story for another day though.

The thing is, my dad spent most of his life working at a brewery, so I already knew that most of the common lagers were all effectively “the same thing”, just packaged differently and with varying degrees of strength. It’s only recently, however, that this practice has genuinely started taking the piss.


We all know that Heineken, Fosters, Moretti, and San Miguel are not actually brewed in Amsterdam, Australia, Italy and Spain and that’s fine, they are established names, after all. For those of us that want something with a little more flavour and depth, there’s also a world of craft beer to indulge in now (again, a story for another day). What isn’t OK, however, is effectively taking a much-maligned beer brand, watering it down and then selling the old recipe as something it never was.

Enter Madri, a ‘Mediterranean’ beer that didn’t exist until a few years ago but is now perhaps the “premium” lager you’re most likely to see down your local Dog and Duck. It’s a launch that underlines the power of a creative and aggressive marketing strategy. It’s just a shame the product is so lacklustre.

The Rise of Madri

Madri's success is no accident; it is the result of a meticulously planned marketing campaign. In April 2022, Google Trends recorded a dramatic surge in interest, with searches for Madri peaking at ten times the level seen in February. This spike coincided with extensive media coverage, with notable mentions in the Manchester Evening News and the Irish Mirror, both highlighting the beer’s swift rise.

A viral tweet from LADbible, garnering nearly 13,000 likes, further amplified the buzz around Madri. Despite some scepticism, with comments questioning its authenticity, by that time, Madri was already available in over 7,500 UK venues. This rapid distribution was a clear indication of its strategic marketing and placement, given that the beer only officially launched in 2020.


Of course, Madri, despite its Spanish-sounding name, is not brewed in a Madrid basement. It is a creation of Molson Coors, a giant in the British beer industry, in collaboration with La Sagra Brewery, a Spanish craft beer firm acquired by Coors in 2017. Madri is a 4.6% ABV European-style lager, which many drinkers have pontificated means it’s most likely to be the old Carling recipe (Carling used to be 4.6%, it’s not just 4%).

According to CGA stats, the launch of Mardi was the most successful in UK hospitality in 16 years, with first-year sales reaching £109.3m, outpacing former record-holders like Gordon’s Pink Gin and Strongbow Dark Fruit. By June 2022, it had become the sixteenth largest draught beer brand in British pubs, with annual sales of around 15 million litres, significantly outpacing competitors like Beck’s and Neck Oil. Today, it’s one of the top 10 best-selling lagers in the country.

Crafting a Mediterranean Narrative

Madri’s branding, inspired by nineteenth-century Spain and the "vibrant spirit of modern Madrid," was designed to resonate with British drinkers yearning for sunnier climes post-pandemic. Despite its Mediterranean allure, however, Madri is brewed in various locations across the UK, including Yorkshire, the official "least sunny place on earth." This clever branding strategy tapped into the emotional desire we all had back then for escapism and nostalgia and it's managed to linger.

Beer expert Pete Brown describes Madri as a "completely manufactured and invented brand," likening its marketing success to that of Peroni and Birra Moretti. The "Mediterranean lager" category, characterized by bright, sun-soaked branding, has become a significant trend in the beer market. The fact it manages to make an impression even during the winter months speaks volumes of our collective yearning.

Let’s be honest here, Madri's marketing campaign (see the slick ad from Havas London above) capitalized on the post-pandemic desire for freedom and travel. With restrictions lifting, Coors invested heavily in the "El Alma de Madrid" campaign, associating Madri with the joy of outdoor drinking and sunny holidays. This emotional connection played a crucial role in Madri’s rapid acceptance and growth.

Molson Coors' established distribution network, already strong with brands like Carling, facilitated Madri’s quick penetration into pubs across the UK. Generous promotional offers and support for struggling pubs further solidified Madri’s presence on the scene and now, just 4 years later, it’s comfortably one of the most visible names on the market, both in pubs and on supermarket shelves.

The Real Future of a Fake Brand

Madri’s marketing strategy did more than just introduce a new beer to the market; it seamlessly integrated the brand into pub culture. The approach was subtle, using familiarity to win over drinkers (there’s a reason why the label looks so similar to the Moretti label). This tactic is a common strategy among big brands seeking to expand their market share.

Of course, the fact it’s almost completely fabricated doesn’t matter to the average drinker looking for a refreshing tipple on a summer evening. Taste-wise, it’s just a stronger version of Carling. The product itself is inconsequential, the branding is literally everything here.


Madri’s stealthy yet powerful entry into the UK beer market is a prime case study in how strategic and aggressive marketing, creative branding, and savvy distribution can transform a lacklustre product into a nationwide sensation. I’ll be sticking to my craft mind.


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