1 (1) Stella Artois
Sales: £527.6m (-0.3%)
Launched: 1366

Stella Artois is in a curious position. Perched at the top of the alcoholic brands tree, owner AB InBev is having to write its own script.

"When you've got the nation's favourite alcoholic drink brand, you can't go to other brands to see how far you can extend it. There's no other case history," admits AB InBev UK president Stuart MacFarlane.

Stella has taken the odd knock since making the number one spot its own. The 'wifebeater' tag hasn't entirely gone away, and some of its attempts at brand extensions feel like they've been airbrushed from history following launches that seemed to go off at half-cock. Artois Bock, Eiken Artois and Peeterman all spring to mind.

A new eco-themed press and poster campaign - 'Less glass, less CO2 emissions' - has added an extra dimension to marketing, and the arrival of the 4% and now Cidre variants has extended the franchise into territory already brimming with consumers. MacFarlane argues this has benefited the parent brand.

"Every time we launch an extension, we have to absolutely stay true to our core values and what the brand stands for," he says. "Secondly, we have to make sure that when we do launch, it's into the premium areas that reinforce those credentials and give something back to consumers."

The brand might not be experiencing growth, but MacFarlane is "very proud" of Stella's ability to hold on to its sales. He says the three pillars of the brand's success are quality, innovation and execution at point of sale. Continuing to invest in chic TV and cinema advertising is only part of the story and can't be quantified exactly, as AB InBev won't divulge its marketing budget for Stella.

A spokeswoman says: "According to Nielsen Ad Dynamix, we had a 25% share of voice in 2010, making us by far the biggest advertiser in the category." The year before, that share was 29%.

MacFarlane is just as keen to talk about the price-marked packs, which have resulted in a big sales uplift in the impulse channel. He cites Nielsen figures to 16 April showing that value sales of such SKUs are up 14% on an MAT basis, and growing 11% ahead of the market as a whole.

He's also at pains to big up the way Stella was presented at Christmas, when a limited-edition gift pack appeared in the off-trade, backed by a burst of TV and poster advertising.

So what comes next for Stella? MacFarlane confirms there are no plans to extend Black, the premium on-trade version, into the off-trade. Neither is AB InBev working on any other Stella-related NPD projects at the moment, preferring to concentrate on its existing styles rather than rush into another Eiken Artois scenario. But given AB InBev's tendency towards hyperactivity on its flagship UK beer, few would anticipate a quiet year ahead for the off-trade's ­biggest drinks brand.

2 (2) Foster's
Sales: £397.4m (+4.2%)
Launched early 1970s

This week saw the launch of premium lager Foster's Gold, available in 300ml embossed clear glass bottles and aimed at core drinkers looking for a drink for mixed social occasions. The new line will be backed by a multi-million-pound campaign kicking off over the August bank holiday.

Foster's main brand, meanwhile, continues to cement its association with humour, having lured comedy icon Alan Partridge out of retirement in 2010. "Comedy's huge and it fits perfectly with the Foster's DNA: open, fun, light-hearted, optimistic, inclusive," says Heineken UK managing director Stefan Orlowski. An investment in new packaging has also ensured greater shelf standout for the brand, adds Doug Walker, Heineken UK head of off-trade marketing.

3 (3) Carling
Sales: £346.7m (+1.3%)
Launched: 1951

Owner Molson Coors is promising a game-changing year for Carling in 2011/12 as it bids to ­reclaim its status as number two off-trade beer brand. Molson Coors has unleashed a programme of brand activity and innovation aimed at driving value back into the beer category.

First off the starting block was a cross-trade promotion, the £6m 'Perfect Pint Experience', offering 13 million prizes including five "experiences" worth £15,000 each. A unique code under the ring pull of cans offered a one-in-10 chance of winning. NPD includes Carling Prime, a new premium lager aimed at preventing people from feeling bloated, and a pre-prohibition style beer, Batch 19, already available in the US and based on a recipe dating from before 1919. Also on the agenda is a ­revamp of the Carling brand to make it appear more British.

4 (6) Smirnoff Red Label
Sales: £309.9m (+9.9%)
Launched: 1953

When times are hard, vodka brands should have more to lose than most other drinks products, 'neutral' spirits being difficult to tell apart by taste. Yet Smirnoff has motored ahead thanks to heavyweight marketing support and a host of spin-offs.

The Flavours range consisting of lime, green apple and blueberry variants was brought to consumer attention through the inclusion of 625,000 5cl bottles on the packaging of the parent brand. Diageo GB estimates that more than one million consumers have sampled the range, meaning about £1 has been spent on each new recruit.

The Smirnoff & Cola premix has also broadened the brand's reach. A diet version hit the shelves in March and marketing manager Neil Skinner says such extensions "play a vital role in creating ­excitement for the brand".

5 (5) Carlsberg
Sales: £302.8m (+7.3%)
Launched: 1904

Carlsberg knows exactly what pushed its sales over £300m this year a little sporting shindig in South Africa last summer. The company says the brand increased its share by 15.1% [TNS] to become the number one beer in the market during the first four weeks of the tournament.

And the brand made headlines not all of them good this year with the global launch of 'That Calls for a Carlsberg', a new tagline, to be used with the classic 'Probably' in the UK. "Some newspapers decided the incorrect story of Carlsberg ditching the 'Probably' tagline was a much better story than what was actually happening," emphasises then Carlsberg UK communications manager Adam Withrington. But that was just one mis-hit shot in an otherwise decent year.

Britain's 100 Biggest Alcohol Brands 2011