Domestic shipments of beer and its low-malt cousin, “happoshu,” logged a 12 percent year-on-year drop in July, according to data released Tuesday by five major brewers.

A recent tax hike and unusually cool weather appear to have dampened the thirst of beer consumers.

Combined shipments of beer and happoshu by the firms — Kirin Brewery Co., Asahi Breweries Ltd., Sapporo Holdings Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd. — dropped to 626,428 kiloliters, the lowest July figure on record. The industry has been compiling such data since 1992.

Beer shipments by the country’s major brewers slid 16 percent from the same month in 2002, maintaining a long-term downtrend.

Shipments of happoshu dropped 4.1 percent, marking negative growth for a third straight month. The margin of decline was narrower, nevertheless, than the double-digit fall logged in the previous two months.

The brewers cited May’s happoshu tax hike and the cool July weather as the twin factors behind the low consumption during a generally high-demand season.

According to the Meteorological Agency, the average temperature in July was 1 to 3 degrees lower than that in an average year, with the exception of Okinawa and southern Kyushu.

Kirin said that combined shipments of beer and happoshu in July dropped some 15 percent, with both Lager and Ichibanshibori shipments down more than 20 percent.

“I cannot say how much (damage) each factor contributed, but the tax hike and the cool July were the cause for the low shipments,” said Kirin spokesman Makoto Ando.

He added that the tax hike prompted a large number of happoshu drinkers to buy canned “chuhai,” a kind of fruit juice cocktail. The firm’s Hyoketsu beverage logged year-on-year growth of more than 50 percent.

While Kirin, Suntory and Sapporo recorded a decline in happoshu shipments in July, Asahi logged a hefty 63 percent increase during the month.

Asahi officials attributed this strong growth to the popularity of its Honmama Aqua Blue drink, released July 16.

SARS bludgeons travel agencies

Japanese travel agencies saw overseas tour bookings for June drop by more than 50 percent year-on-year, the government said Tuesday.

The decline reflects a plunge in demand for trips to Asian destinations following the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The transport ministry said such bookings at 50 major domestic travel agencies were down 51.7 percent.

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