Asahi Breweries is set to expand its stable of 'third-category' beers in an attempt to catch fierce rival Kirin Brewery in the booming segment.

The Japanese brewer said today (2 August) that it will launch Asahi Gokuuma in October.

The brand, a blend of a barley-based spirit and a low-malt beer, will be Asahi's latest attempt to tap into growing demand for 'third-category' beer among Japanese consumers. Demand for the beverages has soared in the last 12 months thanks to the lower tax levied on the products due to their low-malt content.

An Asahi spokesperson told just-drinks that the brewer's share of the category was 19.8% at the end of June. Kirin's, she said, stood at 40.9%.

Last month, Kirin overtook Asahi Breweries in terms of the total shipments of beer and beer-based drinks. Kirin shipped almost 86.8m during the first half of this year, according to reports quoting figures from the Brewers Association of Japan. That tally compared to the almost 86m cases shipped by Asahi.

The figures meant that Kirin's share of the Japanese beer market moved to 37.6%, just above Asahi's 37.3%.

The Asahi spokesperson said the brewer was launching Gokuuma after research found that some consumers wanted a third-category beer with "a richer, bitter taste" compared to the lighter styles of most brands in the segment.

She added that Asahi sold 9m cases of third-category beer in the six months to June and was targeting sales of 24m cases this year, up over 62% on 2005.

A 350ml can of Gokuuma will cost around JPY135 (US$1.18) while a 500ml can will set consumers back JPY190.