Focus Midlands: safe as Banks's

Related tags Banks Beer style Dudley Wolverhampton

There is much written in the food and drinks press about regionality - the growing importance of local produce, of provenance and heritage of...

There is much written in the food and drinks press about regionality - the growing importance of local produce, of provenance and heritage of products from meat and cheese to beer.

But when it comes to the many wonderful brews produced in this country you would be hard pushed to find a more powerful regional brand, in terms of history, heritage and sales, than Banks's.

The brand is a significant contributor of volume sales for the Marston's Beer Company, yet save for small pockets of drinkers dotted around the country (especially in the North East) Banks's sole market is the Midlands, particularly the West Midlands and that part of the region known as the Black Country. There is an almost religious devotion to Banks's from Dudley through Walsall to Wolverhampton.

According to Marston's Beer Company managing director Alistair Darby, the history of Marston's - until this year known as Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries (W&DB) - is utterly intertwined with that of Banks's. "If there is a brand that is the DNA of this company it is Banks's," he says. "There lies the original heart of the business."

But with W&DB changing its name to Marston's is the company not in danger of alienating the Banks's brand - or perhaps even abandoning it? "We will not make that mistake," says Alistair. "The protection of the Banks's name was central to our entire strategy during the name-changing process."

Yet the brand has seen better days. From its localised beginnings Banks's broke out into the east, and to cities like Birmingham, in the 1970s and 80s and the brand enjoyed a heyday as the beer brand of the Midlands.

Its fortunes slipped in the 1990s as tastes changed and customers looked for more challenging and higher ABV beers than the 3.5 per cent Banks's. In fact, the story of Banks's is as much about the decline of a style of beer as it is about the life of a brand. For while there are two brands in the Banks's portfolio, Original and Bitter, Original, known until recently as Banks's Mild, has always been the flagship.

Mild was once the most popular style of beer in the UK, and this remained true for a long time in industrial areas - in communities with mines, factories and foundries.

But this great British beer has gone pretty much the way of great British industry - which is no coincidence, according to Alistair.

"It is a part of our social history that after work, and even in lunch hours, workers would trudge to the pub to sink eight pints of weak beer to slake their thirst," he explains.

"Tales abound of landlords in the Black Country in the 1920s and 30s lining up pint after pint of Banks's on bartops in preparation for the rush."

Today, though, mild is out of fashion and only brands that enjoy fierce local loyalty, like Banks's, seem able to survive.

While Alistair says the brand's name change underlined its position as the 'original' Banks's beer, there can be little doubt the company was keen to get away from the word 'mild'.

"Mild is still a great beer style," insists Alistair. "It is easy-drinking and moreish and low in ABV. If you look at it logically, with all the discussions about irresponsible drinking and high ABV products, you would think mild would be perfect for these times. The problem is it completely falls down when it comes to image.

"Despite this I think mild has a future. Banks's is so popular it will always exist and I'm sure a turnaround in fortunes for session beers will come at some point."

Related topics Beer Wine

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