Kirin sells two of the most popular beers in Japan: Kirin Lager, the country's oldest beer brand; and Ichiban Shibori. In the happoshu (low-malt) category, Kirin Tanrei is the top seller. Kirin handles domestic distribution for several foreign brands, including Budweiser and Heineken. Kirin's brewery operations also extend overseas, through strategic alliances, subsidiaries, and affiliates, to China, Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Europe, New Zealand and the United States. The company holds a 100% stake in Lion Nathan Limited, a consolidated subsidiary that is based in Australia but has particularly important operations in China. Kirin has a 48% stake in San Miguel Brewery, the dominant brewer in the Philippines. Kirin now applies its fermentation technology to areas such as plant genetics, pharmaceuticals, and bioengineering. Although brewing and related businesses remain the core of Kirin's activities, the company is also involved in several other sectors: hard liquor, wine, soft drinks, and food products.
In Japanese, "kirin" can refer to giraffes, or to Qilin, mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creatures. Kirin Brewery is named after the latter.
On 14 July 2009, Kirin announced that it was in negotiations with Suntory on a merger. On 8 February 2010, it was announced that negotiations between the two were terminated.
In 2010, Kirin made 23.4 percent of sales abroad, the highest abroad revenue among Japanese breweries.
In October 2011, the court decided that Kirin can buy a majority stake in family-run Brazilian beer Schincariol. Kirin would buy 50.45 percent of the stakes in 2011, valued at $2.6 billion.
In November 2011, Kirin Holdings Company agreed to buy out shareholders in Brazilian beermaker Schincariol Participacoes e Representacoes, completing its biggest acquisition as it seeks growth in emerging markets ($1.35 billion for the 49.54 percent stake, giving it control of all outstanding shares).
In November 2012, Kirin Holding Co. changed Schincariol name to Brasil Kirin.