The History of Asahi Beer

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Asahi Beer is arguably one of the most recognizable beer brands not only in Asia but also around the world. Its popularity is mainly attributed to its history, as the beer has been around since the 1890s, making it also one of the oldest surviving beer brands. Who created Asahi Beer? And what made it so popular among beer lovers? The answers to these particular questions will be answered as we take a look at the history of Asahi Beer.

The Creation of the Osaka Brewing Company

The Osaka Brewing Company, the establishment responsible for the creation of Asahi Beer, was founded in 1889 and aimed to compete with one of the biggest Japanese beer makers during that time, Japan Brewery Company, who created Kirin beer in 1888.

Beer in Japan has been around since the 17th century, but it was only at the end of the 1880s that Japan would produce world-class beer without relying on imported beer to satisfy the stomachs of Japanese beer lovers. The Osaka Brewing Company aimed to replicate the distinct taste of German lager, but with a more refined taste that suits the palate of Japan better.

Birth of Asahi Beer

Although they were founded in 1889, the Asahi beer would not be created until 1892, when they were finally able to perfect their own beer formula. The company then showcased the Asahi beer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In the showcase, the Osaka Brewing Company stated that Asahi beer is made using Japan-made barley. This barley is said to have been brought from the United States in 1885 and is supposed to grow only in a hot and humid climate. Also, in 1892, the company build the “Asahi Beer Hall,” a room that is supposed to promote the beer to tourists who may visit the brewery.

The company grew quickly, as it was able to become the second biggest brewery in Japan by 1901. During that time, the Osaka Brewing Company was able to beat its rival, Japan Brewery Company, with sales numbers, but its efforts were not yet enough to go on par with Nippon Beer Co., which was the largest beer company in Japan in that period.

Beer Tax and Merger

Unfortunately, it was also in 1901 when the Japanese government imposed a strict beer tax that forced the decline of smaller brewing companies in the country, such as Japan Brewery and the Osaka Brewing Company. In order to reduce competition and increase profits, three beer companies, namely Sapporo, Nippon Beer, and Osaka Brewing, merged in 1906 to form the Dai Nippon Beer Company.

From 1907 up to the early 1930s, there were only two companies that were competing to be the number one brewery in Japan, and these companies are Dai Nippon Beer and Kirin (formerly the Japan Brewery Company). However, in 1933, both companies signed an agreement to create the “Co-operative Beer Sales Company Inc.,” which allowed Dai Nippon to have 70% of the join sales while Kirin would only have 30%.

Triumph Over Sake

Until 1939, another alcoholic beverage in Japan called sake is still more popular than beer, as it was able to sell 4.5 times more than the latter. However, when the production of rice, a key ingredient in sake, was halted in 1940, Japanese beer was given a chance to rise to the top. In order to satisfy people who love sake, beer companies started making their formulas less bitter, resulting in a sweeter taste.

The Split of Dai Nippon

When Japan was defeated in 1945 during the last events of World War II, the country was occupied by the United States for seven years. During this time, the occupiers did their best to rearrange the current economic state of the country, and of those that they have focused on is the breaking up of the economic conglomerates called the “zaibatsu.” As Dai Nippon is considered a zaibatsu, the occupiers have already set their eyes on the status of the beer company. However, Dai Nippon did not wait for the United States to break the company up, as they have voluntarily split the business into two companies. The first company was called Nippon Breweries, which handled the Sapporo Yebatsu beer brand. The second company handled the Asahi beer, and this company was aptly named as the Asahi Breweries. From then on, there were three companies that competed in the beer market; Nippon Breweries has 38.7% of the market, while Asahi and Kirin have 36% and 25.3%, respectively.

Rise of Asahi Breweries

an Asahi Beer brewery

In 1954, Asahi Breweries suddenly experienced a boom in sales, mainly due to the fact that they have focused most of their efforts in marketing. In the same year, Asahi was able to get hold of 37% of the market, thus overtaking Nippon Breweries in being the biggest beer company in the country. In that period, Asahi Beer can be seen almost anywhere, including the 1952 premiere of Gone With the Wind.

In 1958, Asahi introduced the country’s first canned beer, which made drinking their alcoholic beverage more convenient. Today, Japanese canned beer holds 60% of the market compared to bottled beer which only has 40%.

Asahi Around the World

Wanting to get profit around the world and not just in Japan, Asahi Breweries began signing agreements with beer brewing companies in other countries. One of their first international ventures was with the United Breweries of New Guinea in 1971, which allowed the creation of an Asahi brewery in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Because of their business ventures outside Japan, Asahi did not keep a close eye on their operations in the country, and this allowed Kirin to take over the market by 1987. By that time, Kirin was able to get 63% of the market by introducing a new type of beer called Kirin Dry. To compete with Kirin again, Asahi Breweries held a survey in the late 1980s to see what needs to be changed in their beer. In the survey, it was revealed that 98% of those who answered the survey stated that Asahi should change the taste of their beer, and they wanted it to taste like an American beer that is rich without having an aftertaste.

To satisfy the demand, Asahi launched the “Asahi Super Dry,” a richer type of beer that has 5% alcohol. The launch of Asahi Super Dry beer proved to be a success, as its taste was what the Japanese beer lovers wanted Asahi to have. Thanks to its less bitter taste, Asahi Super Dry also became popular among younger drinkers, thus allowing the company to have a new target market.

Because the Asahi Super Dry’s formula is modeled after American beer, Asahi was able to tap into the American beer market when they began importing the beer to the United States in 1995. Asahi Breweries then started importing beer in several countries in Europe in 1997. To lessen import costs, Asahi signed a deal with a brewing company called Bass in 2000 that will allow the latter to brew Asahi Super Dry for the European market.

In 2013, Asahi acquired an Australian beer brewery called Cricketers Arms to brew Asahi beer for them. Then, in 2015, the company acquired another Australian brewery called Mountain Goat Beer. After venturing into the Australian beer market, Asahi then returned to Europe to buy the beer business of SAB Miller in 2017. The said beer business is reported to be worth $7.8 billion, and the acquisition made Asahi the third largest brewing company in the continent of Europe.

Today, Asahi is considered as the biggest beer company in Japan, the fifth biggest in the Asian regions, and the seventh biggest in the world.

Some interesting facts about the Asahi Beer you didn’t know 

  • Asahi beer is made with rice and malted barley- Rice lager made in Japan is called Asahi Super Dry Beer. These beers use malted barley and rice, just like American lagers do. The outcome is a beer with a light color and flavor character. Additionally, there is more carbonation present, necessitating a dryer finish.
  • The super dry beer was created by Asahi- In 1987, the brewery created Asahi Super Dry with “karakuchi” in mind. The beer was an instant hit, and Asahi’s major rivals scrambled to create dry variations of their own. 
  • The first brewery of its kind was located where Asahi was born- Osaka Beer Company, the forerunner of Asahi Breweries, was established in 1889 with the mission of brewing superior beer for Japan. In 1891, the business opened Suitamura Brewery, the first contemporary brewery in Japan. The next year, there was the launch of Asahi Beer.
  • Is Asahi a strong beer- Beer normally has an ABV between 4.5 and 5 percent. Asahi beer is categorized as a light to medium strength beer rather than a strong beer because of its 5 percent ABV.
  • Japanese beer industry giant- The 1949-founded Asahi Group Holdings includes Asahi Breweries, Ltd. A multinational corporation, Asahi Group Holdings has more than 140 businesses in the food, alcoholic beverage, and soft drink industries. North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania are the four continents where Asahi products are sold. 
  • The most popular beer in Japan is Asahi Super Dry- Super Dry was formally shown to the Japanese public in 1987. Asahi Group was able to surpass Kirin Brewery Co. as the market leader with its introduction. Since its introduction, more than 100 million cases have been sold annually. 
  • 74 years before Asahi Breweries, Asahi Beer was introduced- Although Asahi Beer made its debut in 1892 and has origins dating back to the late 1880s, the first formal Asahi Breweries, Ltd. factory was founded in Kashiwa, Japan, in 1966. Asahi Beer started to be produced in bulk at that time. 
  • Asahi Super Dry is the perfect complement to Japanese brewing tradition- Even though Asahi Super Dry itself has a perfectly decent 5% ABV, beer is consumed in Japan a little differently, more like a soft drink than an alcoholic beverage. The Japanese regularly pair their beers with their meals, enjoy them on steamy summer days in the park, and even sip them while they wait for the bullet train. Because of its flavor profile and crisp mouthfeel, Asahi Super Dry pairs well with any meal and is especially refreshing in warm weather.
  • It pairs well with the majority of foods thanks to its adaptable karakuchi flavor profile- Asahi Super Dry pairs well with almost any Japanese dish, especially sushi, due to its less-sweet flavor and speedy finish. It goes well with spicy foods and is a favored accompaniment with grilled meats like pork belly and chicken yakitori. In fact, because of how adaptable its flavor profile is, it also goes well with different cuisines. Try it with a juicy burger, some tender, crispy pata, or even some hot, spicy Korean tteokbokki.
  • Japan’s best-selling beer is Asahi Super Dry- It’s not surprising that Asahi Super Dry is a preferred beer beverage in Japan given that it was created with the country’s drinking culture and palate in mind. Over 60 million cases of Asahi’s signature product were sold in 2021 alone. This equates to nearly 304 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of beer, or about 760 million gallons.
  • Asahi constantly makes innovations- A unique “draft” version of Asahi Breweries’ bottled Asahi Super Dry beer was announced for 2021. The pull tab on the can, which was designed to produce a creamy head of foam on top of the beer once it is opened, makes this draft version unique. According to Asahi, the inside of the can is built with little bumps to increase the amount of head on the beer. Akiko Katayama, a food and beverage journalist based in Tokyo, claims that the label was introduced in April 2021 to cater to the demands of Japanese consumers who were at home during Covid-19.
  • Super Dry is incredibly adaptable- More than doubling the size of its standard 11.2-ounce can, the new 25.4-ounce Asahi Super Dry can was introduced by Asahi Group Holdings in May 2021. According to the firm, this supersized version of the well-known brand was created in response to consumer demand for portable, practical canned goods.
  • Asahi was sued- In the U.S., Asahi was sued in a class action by Alexander Panvini and Matin Shalikar in April 2017. District Court for California’s Northern District. They thought Asahi’s beer labels misled customers about where it was brewed. They claimed that Asahi had broken the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the Unfair Competition Law, and the False Advertising Law. 
  • The business had to use “karakuchi” to adjust to the evolving Japanese taste- German-style beers were the most widely consumed type in Japan at the time Asahi was established. But as the years went by, a demand for a beer more in tune with Japanese taste started to emerge. Local beer customers wanted their beers to be less sweet and to leave less of an aftertaste, Asahi’s brewers noticed. To define the ideal Japanese beer, they created the term “karakuchi,” which loosely translates to “pungent mouth” and also refers to tasting anything peppery, salty, or dry. 

Conclusion

The first dry beer in the world is Asahi. Asahi Super Dry is meticulously brewed to the highest standards under the supervision of Japanese master brewers. Complex brewing techniques result in a flavor that is dry, sharp, and has a short, clean aftertaste.

You might want to try Asahi the next time you’re in the mood for Japanese beer. You could enjoy the crisp, golden brew a little bit more if you are aware of the brewery’s history. You can pair if with your meal, or just simply have a drink on a warm evening before bed. 

If you are interested to learn about beers in the United States, you can read our article about the Origins of the Oldest Beers Brewed in America.

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