Scotland’s Top Brands 2023 – Tennent’s is still king of the castle

Value of drinks leaps even as growing costs squeeze margins across trade

Scottish hospitality businesses have been in recovery mode this year, after what has been an unprecedented few years for the industry. 

Figures provided by CGA for SLTN’s annual Top Brands feature show drinks sales through Scotland’s bars, pubs and restaurants have grown by over £200 million in the course of the past year – to £2.2 billion. 

While that’s undoubtedly good news, it comes with a note of caution: the current state of the economy means that it might not be the win that it seems. 

Licensees have been telling SLTN throughout the year that footfall is generally up in 2023 compared to the past few years – and even in some cases compared to 2019 – but increased footfall and turnover don’t always equate to bigger profits. And with prices up across the board, a lot of operators’ margins are more squeezed than they’ve ever been. 

It’s likely that 2023 will be considered a transition year, then, in terms of on-trade drinks sales. A transition to what remains to be seen. 

In the following pages you will find information on the top 40 drinks brands in the Scottish on-trade in the 12 months to 17th June 2023 according to CGA’s OPMS data, with details on numbers 1 to 15 followed by some analysis of some of the bigger categories in the market. 

The top end of the list is unchanged from last year, but further down the top 40 things get interesting, with beer brands Birra Moretti and Peroni Nastro Azzurro swapping places, Absolut rocketing up the rankings and several other brands shouldering their way into the top 20 from further down the list. 

Category-wise, spend is up almost across the board, with the exception of ale (down £10m in the course of the year), RTDs (down £5m) and fortified wines/vermouths (down £300,000). 

Lager remains the biggest category by value, at £684m (up from £628m), followed by wine, at £351m (up from £336m) and vodka, at £244m (up from £228m).

1. Tennent’s Lager

C&C Group

SCOTLAND’s goliath continues to see off all comers, with Tennent’s Lager maintaining its position as the biggest-selling drink in Scottish venues. 

This year the Big Red T showed its trademark sense of humour with its latest advertising campaign, Oooft, as well as redesigning its can for the first time in five years. Was that a precursor to an on-trade facelift as well?

2. Smirnoff


THE biggest-selling brand in the biggest-selling spirits category, Smirnoff is also the biggest of Diageo’s ‘big four’ brands in Scottish pubs and bars. 

It’s been largely ‘steady as she goes’ for the Smirnoff brand this year, which has spent the past several years extending its range with a growing number of flavoured products.

A few years ago some were predicting gin would overtake vodka to become the dominant on-trade spirit. Safe to say that hasn’t happened.


3. Captain Morgan


INNOVATION has been the name of the game for Diageo’s Captain Morgan over the past couple of years. 

Last year the company introduced a flavoured version of the brand, Captain Morgan Tiki, followed this year by two products aimed at different corners of the market. 

The new Captain Morgan Black Spiced – a premium dark spiced rum drink – is aimed at the growing market for premium spirits, with zero-ABV Captain Morgan Spiced Gold 0.0% targeting those looking for moderation. 

4. Guinness


IN Diageo terms Guinness is the brand that started it all. It was Guinness that, in 1997, merged with Grand Metropolitan to create the drinks giant that we know today. And Guinness remains a huge part of the company’s on-trade business. 

In fact, this year Diageo claimed that Guinness had such a record-breaking December in 2022 that it briefly became Britain’s number one beer in the on-trade. Not bad for a 200 year-old senior citizen. 

As well as being an elder statesman, though, it could be argued that Guinness is a trend-setter in the drinks industry, with several brewers having launched stouts in recent months in an attempt to take even a small part of the category Guinness has made its own. 

5. Gordon’s


GIN may not quite have overtaken vodka in the way many expected, but it remains an on-trade powerhouse. And Gordon’s is the biggest player in the room. 

The brand continues to remain high profile through its ‘shall we?’ campaign, which promotes the original London Dry version of Gordon’s as well as the various flavours Diageo has introduced in more recent years. 

The brand’s pink gin is also being promoted through a partnership with TV presenter Maya Jama.

6. Birra Moretti


The battle to be Scotland’s second favourite lager is heating up, with Heineken’s Birra Moretti taking second place from Italian rival Peroni on this year’s Top Brands list. 

Heineken ramped up its support for Moretti this year, with initiatives including an extensive trade marketing campaign that aimed to help licensees attract more customers during quieter periods – a worthy goal if ever there was one. 

Moretti’s position this year would seem to indicate that the Dutch giant’s efforts to promote the brand are paying off.

7. Peroni Nastro Azzurro


Peroni may have slipped a place on this year’s Top Brands list, but the Italian stallion is still galloping into the top ten. Sticking with the racing theme, Asahi this year geared up support for Peroni’s alcohol-free variant, Peroni 0.0, with a sponsorship of the Aston Martin F1 team. 

The Japanese company also introduced a new product to the Peroni lineup – Peroni Stile Capri – a 4.2% ABV lager with a twist of lemon.

8. Absolut

Pernod Ricard

In previous years, SLTN has featured a ‘high flyers’ list of brands that have made significant progress in the past year. That list isn’t included this year but, if it was, Absolut would likely be at the very top. The stylish vodka has rocketed up the rankings in 2023, moving from 14th place in 2022 to the eighth-biggest brand in Scotland’s pubs and bars this year. Alongside the continued popularity of Smirnoff, Absolut’s performance shows that vodka is still the bar call of choice for many Scottish pub-goers. 

9. Jack Daniel’s


The quintessential world whiskey brand, Mr Jack has enjoyed a strong year, moving up the rankings to ninth place. 

This year Brown-Forman joined forces with another American giant – Coca-Cola – to release a co-branded Jack and Coke in a can. 

While that’s likely to have been a bigger deal for the off-trade than the on-trade, it’s clear Scottish consumers continue to indulge their sweet tooth with Tennessee’s most famous son. 

10. Stella Artois

Budweiser Brewing Group

Stella slips a place on this year’s Top Brands list, just squeezing into the top ten at number ten. 

Activity from the brand this year has included a novel approach to marketing; knowing many pint drinkers also enjoy a packet of crisps, the brand team decided to cut out the middle man and create a new line of Stella-branded crisps. As well as being a bit of fun, the idea had a serious side, with money from each pack going to industry charity Hospitality Action. 

That’s what we call thinking with your heart as well as your head. 

11. Belhaven Best

Greene King

Scotland’s favourite ale, Belhaven sits just outside the top ten on this year’s Top Brands list. In a recent chat with SLTN Belhaven marketing lead Steven Sturgeon said the ale’s recent rebrand was designed to attract new drinkers into the ale category and give the brand a more contemporary look and feel. It will be interesting to see whether the rebrand, which went live just a few months ago, will help Belhaven Best climb back up the list next year. 

12. Strongbow


Scotland’s favourite cider brand holds steady at number 12 on this year’s list. Heineken pulled out the stops this year, with a major redesign of the Strongbow brand that aims to help the cider re-engage with a younger audience. 

The new look was supported by a marketing campaign, ‘Take A Bow’, which looked to celebrate ‘everyday greatness’ across the country.

13. Kopparberg


Scotland’s favourite Swedish cider has moved up a few places on the Top Brands list this year, proving the appetite for fruit ciders remains strong north of the border. 

Activity for Kopparberg this year included the launch of a special summer cider, Kopparberg Summer Punch, which added a peach twist to the brand’s core apple cider. 

14. Carling

Molson Coors

Carling slips down the list a little this year, but it would be a fool that counted out the English giant. 

Carling, the UK’s favourite lager overall, this year renewed its sponsorship of the English Football Association. Which, if nothing else, will keep the brand high profile with Scottish football fans as they enthusiastically cheer on the opposing side. 

Last month, the brand also launched a new on-trade initiative that will see pub customers able to win match tickets and stadium tours.

15. Famous Grouse

Edrington Group

Scotland’s favourite Scotch, Famous Grouse just squeezes into the top 15 on this year’s Top Brands List. 

Grouse was this year named as the official partner of rugby’s Nations Series, ensuring the brand was prominent for anyone who enjoys a spot of on-pitch violence in their ball games. It’s been a strong year for Edrington Group overall, with the company announcing it had reached £1bn in revenues for the first time. 


16. Moët & Chandon

17. Strongbow Dark Fruit


18. Innis & Gunn Lager

19. Corona Extra


20. Tanqueray

21. Bacardi

22. Beefeater

23. Baileys

24. Coors

25. Jägermeister

Jagermeister bottle

26. Kraken

27. Madrí Excepcional

28. Menabrea

29. Johnnie Walker

30. Magners Original

31. Heverlee

32. Whyte & Mackay

33. Rekorderlig

34. Budweiser

35. Oliver & Gregs

36. Heineken

37. Cîroc

38. WKD

39. Sourz

40. Amstel