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Japanese brewers serve up seasonal beers

With the days turning cooler and the leaves on the trees changing color, Japan's major brewers are releasing their beers crafted just for this time of year.

And manufacturers are likely to have been buoyed by the news that beer shipments climbed 1 percent in the July to September quarter, the first year-on-year increase in six years. The increase in consumption - up to 129.25 million cases, each of 20 633-milliliter bottles - was linked to the scorching summer that Japan has just experienced, and brewers hope their customers have rediscovered their taste for beer.

Kirin Brewery Co. was the first to launch its seasonal ale, putting its Kirin Autumn Taste on the market on August 25. The beer is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is popular at this time of year because it has a higher malt content and, at 6 percent, is slightly higher in alcohol content, the company said.

"In our study, people say they prefer the richness and flavour of Autumn Taste at this time of year," the company said in a statement, adding that it also makes the perfect accompaniment to food that is in season at the moment.

The packaging of the cans has been updated this year and features the dark reds and golds of the colors of autumn. The company expects to sell around 56 million cases of the beer.

Looking slightly further ahead, Sapporo Breweries Ltd. made an updated version of its popular "Winter's Tale" ale available from October 13. Another long-running favourite, Winter's Tale was first launched in 1988 but not released last year. In response to requests that the brewer bring the beer back, Sapporo has created a slightly darker Pilsner-style beer that incorporates charcoal into the malt roasting process, giving it a clear and clean aftertaste, the company said.

Named after the famous work of William Shakespeare, the beer has an alcohol content of 5.5 percent and goes very well with traditional Japanese cuisine at this time of year, such as hot pots and soups.

Asahi Breweries Ltd. is not releasing a specialist beer this year, the company said, although the last of the "Big Four" Japanese manufacturers, Suntory Holdings Ltd., is planning the launch of two entirely new beers.

The Yoin-no-Zeitaku - which translates as "the luxury of lingering" - goes on sale on November 9 and has "a profound flavour and pleasant aftertaste" that has been created by aging the beer slowly and carefully, the company said.

Heavy on the malt content, the beer is a strong 7 percent alcohol and comes in a dark brown can with a design of golden ears of wheat.

The final addition to the company's lineup will be the Kahori-no-Zeitaku, a light-bodied ale with a mellow aroma, it said. The beer goes on sale on December 7 and takes advantage of malt from the champagne region of France, which helps to give it the light taste and flavor.