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
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 that 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.