Anheuser-Busch and Japan’s Kirin Brewery annnounced today that their alliance will be enlarged to include marketing and sales of Kirin beers in the United States. Currently, A-B contract brews all Kirin beers for the domestic market at its Los Angeles brewery. That relationship began ten years ago and included distribution, as well, through A-B’s network of 600 wholesalers. Since 1993, Kirin has been contract brewing Budweiser in Japan for the Japanese market.
August A. Busch IV, president of Anheuser-Busch, was quoted as saying. “American consumers have a great interest in high-end Asian cuisine and culture, including Asian beer.”
Now that’s high-end, klassy with a “k.” Anybody want to venture a guess as to how she’s holding that glass? It looks like it’s glued to her hand or was done with Photoshop.
Busch continued. “We are aggressively expanding our range of high-end beers to meet the diverse needs of our consumers. The Kirin beers are of the highest quality and have enormous potential, as the Asian influence is rapidly growing. This new agreement enhances a truly global relationship between our two companies. Now, we also share a deeper commitment to each other’s success.”
But the big three Japanese breweries — Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo — are experiencing the same loss of market share the big U.S. brewers are, and for much the same reasons. Japan’s consumers, mirroring their American counterparts, are demanding more flavorful beers. But at the same time, economic difficulties have led to price wars with so many customers shopping on price alone.
This in turn has led to the rise of cheaper beers made with grains other than barley. Because of oppressive taxes on beer in which over a third of a beer’s cost goes to the government, brewers have been making alternative brews using less than 67% malt by using rice, corn or even soybeans as substitutes. These beers can be sold for half of the all-malt beers. But as for taste, most say you get what you pay for. Long term, this is potentially very damaging to the industry.
As for Kirin’s story, American businessman William Copeland and German brewmaster Herman Heckard founded the Spring Valley Brewery outside Tokyo in 1870. For luck they put a “Kirin” on the label. A “Kirin” (Qilin in Chinese) is a mythical beast that is generally considered a sign of good luck. Though it was not necessarily lucky for the Spring Valley Brewery, which closed in 1884 and became the Japan Brewery Co. a year later under new owners from Yokohama. In 1907, the Mitsubishi family bought the brewery, renaming it the Kirin Brewery. Kirin is currently the best selling beer in Japan.