Beer brand Madrí’s claim to be ‘Madrid’s modern-style European cerveza’ is untrue – but does anyone really care, asks Pete Brown.

Madrid is one of my favourite drinking cities in the world. I love the ease of it: a leisurely caña, ice-cold with a thick, creamy head, with a tapa of fish, cheese or meat on a slice of bread, and on to the next bar. You’ll see olive stones and napkins gather in drifts by the foot rails.

Beautiful tiled walls, old men holding furious political arguments, legs of jamon gently oozing grease, and everywhere these little glasses of beer, as essential and unnoticed as the air you breathe.

One thing you’re less likely to see is a beer called Madrí. Madrí Excepcional is all over the UK. It is the most successful new alcohol brand launch in the 16 years that analyst CGA has been measuring such things. After a soft launch in October 2020, in 2022 it exploded. It’s gone from nowhere to become a top 10 lager brand. It’s everywhere. Everywhere, that is, apart from Madrid, where it has only recently launched.

The Madrí website describes the beer as “Madrid’s modern-style European cerveza”. This is straightforwardly not true. Forget Madrid: Madrí is about as Spanish as my dog Mildríd (I know that’s not the correct spelling of the name, but that’s how she spells it).

Look closer, and you’ll see Madrí is ‘inspired by’ the ‘soul’ of Madrid. In 2017, Molson Coors bought La Sagra brewery in Spain. The story is that Madrí is a unique collaboration with La Sagra to create an authentic Spanish lager. Overlook the fact that Madrí is only brewed by Molson Coors at several sites in the UK, including Tadcaster in Yorkshire.

Also overlook that La Sagra is actually based in Toledo, 70 miles from Madrid, and the fact that the brewery website talks about how “in Toledo everything has a special aura,” and “perhaps for this reason, La Sagra is also a different kind of beer.”

When I first checked out La Sagra after reading the blurb late last year, Madrí featured nowhere on its website. It’s there now – not listed as one of its own beers, but in a page of ‘other beers’, alongside Molson Coors brands such as Carling, Coors and Blue Moon. It claims no more ownership over Madrí than it does any of these other beers.

It is very easy – and very satisfying – to take the piss out of this completely fabricated brand, which is rumoured by sources close to Molson Coors to be Coors Light with added hop extract.

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But dismiss Madrí at your peril. What Molson Coors has done right far outweighs the brand’s lack of substance or authenticity.

‘World lager’

Overall, the recovery from lockdown is seeing beer struggle to regain its former dominance, with younger drinkers in particular skipping long drinks altogether and going straight to spirits and cocktails when they head back out to pubs and bars.

But break it down, and what is euphemistically referred to as ‘world lager’ is outperforming everything else, including gin.

Within ‘world lager’ (where else would it come from: the moon?) the bit of the world that’s setting the pace is the Mediterranean. It doesn’t matter that Spain and Italy have no beer-brewing heritage – ever since Peroni repositioned itself as a fashion brand, this is where lager drinkers want their beers to come from. Carlsberg dusted off San Miguel to counter Peroni, and Heineken did likewise with Moretti. But Molson Coors didn’t have a brand that could compete in this warm, sparkling, gastronomic space. So it invented one.

Madrí is priced at a premium, but below Peroni. At 4.6% abv it’s not too weak and not too strong. It’s not as flavourful as craft, but more so than mainstream lagers. Struggling pubs have been given all sorts of incentives to stock it. And when it appeared on the bar, drinkers who were happy to get out of the house but still couldn’t get a flight to Spain or Italy closed their eyes and drank Madrí instead.

Any launch as successful as this requires both skill and luck, and Madrí seems to have enjoyed large amounts of both. Its success forces us to ask a big question of drinks marketing more generally. For decades, drinkers have been telling us they’re looking for authenticity. For stories. That premiumness means something beyond mere marketing hype. Has Madrí just proven that this is all bollocks?

Sure, not many of its drinkers are fully aware that it’s a fake. But my hunch is that, when they find out, they won’t really care. Maybe it’s time once again to ask if the stories we tell ourselves in the drinks world really matter.