Japan may have lost its edge for coming up with the coolest gadgets like portable music players and mobile phones. But if it’s any consolation, it now seems to have put its genius for creative innovation to work in another field of popular consumer demand–the beer cocktail.
Kirin Brewery Co. 2503.TO -4.48%, the nation’s second-largest brewer, is promoting a cocktail based on its premium Ichiban Shibori, called the Ichiban Shibori Two-Tone Draft. It is made by slowly pouring the beer into a glass with liqueur or soft drink, using a special hand-held strainer to prevent the ingredients from mixing too much, creating a two-tone layer in the middle of the glass. Kirin recommends combining Ichiban Shibori with cassis, lemon liqueur, grape juice or even stout.
Kirin hopes this will appeal to young people and women who prefer a sweeter taste than the usual bitterness of beer. While you can make these cocktails at home, they can also be quaffed at temporary, summertime “pop-up” bars called Kirin Ichiban Gardens in Tokyo and five other cities.
Meanwhile, the nation’s largest brewer Asahi Breweries 2502.TO -0.92%, is pushing a cocktail called Double Cultured, a mixture of its flagship Asahi Super Dry and Calpis fermented milk drink. Asahi is encouraging restaurants and bars that handle Super Dry kegs to add the cocktail to their menus.
How about black beer with ice? For those who prefer some zing in the normally smoky taste of black beer, Asahi is promoting its Dry Black Bar Style–Super Dry Black beer with lemon and mint in a specially chilled glass with ice. The brew is a little hard to come by, however, available only at Asahi’s eight summer-only Extra Cold bars.
These bars also serve a chilled version of Asahi Super Dry at minus 2 degrees Celsius, close to the freezing point. An estimated 400,000 customers have flocked to the bars this summer, 10 times more than came to the single outlet that first appeared in 2010. The drink is also available at about 5,000 bars and restaurants.
There have been other worthy efforts by brewers to reinvigorate beer sales.
Last year, Kirin introduced its Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft, a frosty brew with an ice-cream-like head of frozen foam drawn from a special tap. This year, in addition to Kirin Ichiban Gardens, the drink is available at 2,000 bars and restaurants that have special taps.
All these funky new concoctions may be coming onto the market at just the right time for consumer demand.
The ambitious economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, known as “Abenomics,” seem to be encouraging more people to go out for a tipple. In the April-June period, restaurant beer sales rose about 2% from the same period a year earlier.
Weekend spending on pricier items also seems to be on the rise, including that on premium beer used in the new cocktails.
All of this could just mean nationwide beer shipments finally rise in 2013 for the first time in nine years. In 2012, beer shipments fell 1.0% to just over 438 million cases, 24% below the peak in 1994.
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