Kirin Brewery Co. beat Asahi Breweries Ltd. in shipments of beer and beerlike alcoholic drinks in the January-March quarter for the first time in six years, according to industry data released Wednesday.

Kirin boosted shipments in the quarter 26.5 percent from the previous year to 37.32 million cases, while Asahi expanded its shipments 3.1 percent to 34.94 million cases. One case contains 20 633-ml bottles.

Kirin accounted for 38.4 percent of total shipments, against 36.0 percent for Asahi.

Kirin took advantage of brisk sales of its new low-malt “happoshu” launched in February, as well as an improved “third-category beer” put on the market in January.

Asahi saw sluggish sales of both happoshu and third-category drinks, which are cheaper because they are not classified as true beer.

In calendar 2005, Asahi had a bigger market share than the other four major domestic brewers, which include Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd.

The five brewers’ total shipments in the January-March quarter rose 8.6 percent from the prior year to 97.13 million cases as consumption outside the home grew in line with the economic recovery.

The brewers are expected to intensify their sales drives this month, before May’s tax increase on third-category beer.

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