A combined group would have been be the largest in the Japanese beer and soft drink markets with sales of more than 400 billion dollars -- ahead of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev and Coca-Cola Co. of the United States.
However, Kirin said that Suntory held a different view, and that therefore the talks were "unlikely to result in the establishment of a company that would fulfil Kirin's aim of developing as a leading global company." "Kirin therefore decided to terminate the negotiations," it is said.
Microbrewers, on the other hand, experienced a bumper year, with shipments climbing to 34,000 kiloliters. And while that may still only represent a fraction of the amount sold by the established beer firms, it is an impressive increase on the 14,000 kiloliters that were consumed in 2003.
"Now they can be purchased all over Japan and we are exporting to China and Australia as well." Based in the central Japan city of Nagoya, Morita Kinshachi produces a range of European-style pilsners, an Indian Pale Ale and an Imperial Chocolate Stout, but among its best-sellers are beers flavored with green tea or fermented bean paste.
Other breweries have caught on to the concept of being different, with the Hakusekikan microbewery's Tenen Hachinitsu Kobo Shizen Bakushu taking advantage of the natural yeast found in honey. The Super Vintage brew, meanwhile, packs a punch with three times the alcohol content of regular beer.
Microbreweries were legalized in Japan in 1994 and there are now some 300 companies brewing across the country. Many others have been forced to stop brewing due to the big beer companies' ability to keep prices low as they produce in bulk. But with sales rising in 2009, despite the global economic crisis, microbrewers hope that drinkers are shifting towards quality over quantity.