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Umeshu - the wonderful Japanese liqueur

Updated on April 4, 2010

Learn all about Japanese Umeshu

Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur with more than 1,000 years of history. It is made of Ume apricot, alcohol and sugar and very popular in Japan. There are more than 300 private Umeshu labels and many households also make their own liqueur.

The purpose of this lens is to share knowledge about Umeshu in generals, Umeshu labels, their producers and to show how its production works.

Umeshu was brought from China to Japan as a medical drink in the eight century. In 1697 the dictionary of Japanese food culture first time documents the word "umeshu". It describes umeshu as increasing appetite. It also says that umeshu is detoxifying and helping against sore throat.

The production method has not changed that much since ancient times. However, in its beginning umeshu was made using aged sake only instead of the multiple alcohol bases that are common these times.

The many umeshu brands have broad varieties in taste, scent and color. These differences are driven by using different alcohol types as a base as well as differences in other ingredients and production methods. There are four basic types of umeshu:

- Umeshu based on Sake

- Umeshu based on Shochu

- Umeshu based on Brandy

- Umeshu based on White Liqueur

The most important ingredient for umeshu is ume-apricot. Umeshu can be made with ripe, so called kanjuku-ume or with green aoume. The fruits are cleaned and then put into alcohol in large containers. They usually are marinated for about a year and then removed from the alcohol. Some umeshu are allowed to age for 10 or even 20 years. Some umeshu producers keep a few ume inside the umeshu and it is delicious to eat them.

Many private households make their own Umeshu since the principles of marinating Ume apricot in alcohol is very simple.

Umeshu based on Sake

Sake - or nihonshu - is a Japanese alcoholic drink brewed from rice and water. It is well known as ricewine but it's production is closer to the production of beer than wine. It is the differences in rice, the water and the mash that lead to a large variety of sake brands and flavors. The taste of sake can be very smooth and flowery, dry or even sour and sharp.

Many umeshu are made based on sake. It is obvious that the different types of sake also lead to different types of umeshu. We made a selection of a few very nice but different umeshu based on sake.

Umeshu based on Shochu

Shochu is a distilled beverage native to Japan. It has between 25% and 43% alcohol and most often is made of rice, barley or sweet potato. There also is a variety of Shochu made of buckwheat, sweet chestnut or even milk. Shochu became very popular over the last years, mainly because it is more digestible than Sake. It is made all over Japan but is originated from Kyushu island.

Umeshu based on Brandy

Brandy can also serve as a base for the production of Umeshu. They often have a slightly heavy taste. Their full body comes from brandy that matured during many years. They fit well to a romantic fireplace evening and are a perfect blend of Western and Japanese culture.

Umeshu based on White Liqueur

White liqueur is made industrially and has no own taste as compared to Sake, Shochu or brandy. This makes it a good base for Umeshu since it preserves the original taste of the ume apricot. This neutral alcohol base is also often used for new Umeshu creations including green tea, honey, Japanese basil or other innovative ingredients (e.g., banana).

How to best enjoy Umeshu - There is more than one way to enjoy Umeshu

  • On the Rock

    The most common way to serve Umeshu is on the rock. If you order an Umeshu in a bar you will usually get it with a lot of ice. I recommend using a little ice only since it dilutes the taste of Umeshu very quickly.

  • Slightly chilled

    I personally enjoy Umeshu most without ice but slightly chilled. This is especially true for Umeshu that suits very well as aperitif or digestif (e.g., Jonetsu Umeshu, Nigori Yuzu Umeshu, Uji Gyokuro Umeshu).

  • Soda

    Umeshu that are very intense and thick also taste very well with a little bit of soda. The nine year old Kyunen Koshu Nigori Umeshu for example is much better with soda than as is. Soda is also very useful if you just want to have the notion of Umeshu flavor without the effect of alcohol.

  • "Oyuwari"

    The Japanese have a custom to enjoy alcohol with warm water and Oyuwari literally means "mixed with warm water". Especially in winter you can warm you body and soul by mixing some Umeshu with a glass of hot water.

  • Umeshu as a cocktail

    Umeshu is a wonderful ingredient for any cocktail that needs fruit and/or acid. I will later create a dedicated lens on cocktails with Umeshu.

I found there are four types of Umeshu consumers.

Tell me who you are and I will find your preferred Umeshu

I have been organizing many Umeshu tasting events and each time I collected a questionnaire from the participants. This questionnaire also states which Umeshu they liked and which not. After hacking the results into a database, I quickly realized that there are four basic Umeshu connoisseur profiles:

1) The acid type:

People in this group like drinks with a very refreshing acid. It is not so important if the liqueur is fruity or which base it is made of - as long as it is not sweet! Jonetsu Umeshu and Nigori Yuzu Umeshu a very popular among people who belong to the acid type.

2) The fruity type

People in this group love intense fruit flavor and do not care so much of the liqueur is sweet or acid. In general they appreciate Umeshu based on all kind of alcohols and are very open to combinations of ume-apricot with other fruits such as banana or passion fruit.

3) The dry type

People who fall under this category prefer dry or even bitter drinks. Very often Umeshu where you recognize the alcohol base are very much appreciated by the dry type.

4) The sweet type

These are the sweet teeth among us. The sweet type likes liqueurs that are sweet and it does not matter so much if the flavor is more fruity or rather close to honey for example.

These are stereotypes of course and there are exceptions. But I found out that this works pretty accurate when recommending people a Umeshu.

What type are you? - Tell me who you are - and I will find the right Umeshu for you.

Through many tasting events I was able to identify four basic types of people with regards to Umeshu. What kind of person are you?

What type of flavors do you like?

See results

Learn how to make Umeshu at home. - Follow this recipe and video to make your own Umeshu

What you need:

1kg of gree ume-apricot

1.8l of white liqueur

1kg of rock sugar

one 4 liter glass bottle or jar with lids

and last but not least...

... one year patience until the Umeshu is ready for drinking.

Make or buy Umeshu?

Do you make your own Umeshu or do you prefer buying from professional breweries?

Umeshu related products

Funny products I found about umeshu - for lovers and haters of umeshu ;-)

Please share this site with friends that are interested in Japan and Japanese food.

Do you like Umeshu? - Share your experiences with all of us.

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    • profile image

      jo-soothill-5 5 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: You can buy it at Dan Murphy's

    • Umeshu profile image
      Author

      Umeshu 7 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: Thank you very much for your blessing. It motivates to write more lenses about Japanese food. I wish you a happy new year full of new interesting stuff on Squidoo.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I must see if I can find some Japanese Umeshu in Australia! Blessed in an Angel's Last Tango (squidoo.com/angel-last-tango)

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

      Hi, Nicolas & welcome to Squidoo! I am not too experienced in the world of liqueurs and thank you for introducing me to Umeshu. You have done a wonderful job on your first lens and I am pleased, as a SquidAngel, to be able to bless it.