Umeshu - the wonderful Japanese liqueur
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.
- Aragoshi Umeshu
Aragoshi Umeshu made by the famous Ume no Yado Brewery in Nara prefecture is a very unique Umeshu. It is made of very ripe Ume apricot and includes some extra pulp. It is unfiltered so that the delicious pulp remains in the liqueur.
- Sogabairin no Umeshu
Sogabairin no Umeshu () is made by the Ishii Brewery in Kanagawa prefecture. Soga is the name of a region that is well known for growing ume-apricot. This Umeshu is based on Sake and a little bit rough in the first place. The long-lasting aftertaste
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.
- Hannari Kyo Umeshu
Hannari Kyo Umeshu is a very classic Umeshu from Kyoto. It's taste reminds many Japanese their grandmothers home-made Umeshu. It is not so sweet and has a refreshing acid.
- Jonetsu Umeshu
Jonetsu Umeshu is made with Awamori - a kind of rice-shochu from Okinawa island - and a shot of passion-fruit juice. Both fruits have very intense flavor as well as natural acid and complement each other. This Umeshu is fruity but dry with a lot of a
- Nigori Yuzu Umeshu
Nigori Yuzu Umeshu is made by the Kitagawa Honke brewery in Kyotu. It's taste is dominated by Japanese Yuzu lime. It is a little bit sour and emphasizes the fragrance of the slightly bitter Yuzu skin. It is unfiltered and includes a lot of pulp.
- Ohara Shiso Umeshu
Ohara Shiso Umeshu from the Kitagawa Honke brewery in Kyoto is made mit Japanese Shiso mint that gives it a nice pink color. Ohara is the name of a region that is well known for growing Shiso. Because it is made with natural Shiso only it has a very
- Shochu Shikomi Kuroi Umeshu
Shochu Shikomi Kuroi Umeshu is made from wheat Shochu by the Kikusui brewery in Kochi prefecture. The dark color of the Shochu gives it its name (kuroi means black). The distinct flavor of the wheat Shochu blends very well with the ume-apricot. This
- Uji Gyokuro Umeshu
Uji Gyokuro Umeshu is made of rice Shochu, ume and green tea. The addition of real green tea leaves from the Uji region gives it a very natural scent of green tea that blends very well with ume. This Umeshu has a bitter aftertaste typical for Gyokuro
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.
- Baiko Hyakunen Umeshu
Baiko Hyakunen Umeshu literally means "hundred years Umeshu" in Japanese. It is made by the Meiri brewery in Ibaraki prefecture. It is based on brandy that aged for at least 5 years and it has a fruity, long-lasting aroma.
- Joto Umeshu
The name says it all: Joto means first class in Japanese and the flavor of this Umeshu matches its name. It has a smooth but not too sweet taste and a perfect balance of ume-apricot, brandy and honey.
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).
- Kokuto Umeshu
Kokuto Umeshu is with brown sugar and made by the Honbo brewery in Kagoshima prefecture. It is a perfect liqueur for dessert. The aroma is dominated by the brown sugar and smoothened by the softness of the ume-apricot and some honey. This very unique
- Koshu Nigori Umeshu
Koshu Nigori Umeshu is an unfiltered and therefore unclear Umeshu. Only very ripe ume fruits are used for its production. This gives him a strong fruitiness that reminds western apricot. It is a rather smooth Umeshu with little acid and a nice aftert
- Kyunen Koshu Nigori Umeshu
Kyunen Koshu Nigori Umeshu is made by the Kikusui brewery and it aged for nine years. It has a rich flavor of ripe ume-apricot and it is very sweet. Its consistency is very thick and it has a very intense fruity scent.
- Shoga Umeshu
Shoga Umeshu is a really amazing liqueur. At first the ginger really as the sharpness of raw ginger. But after a short while it smoothens and the second impression is a long-lasting beautiful taste of ginger. This Umeshu is a perfect drink on a hot s
- Torotoro Banana Umeshu
Torotoro Banana Umeshu from Kikusui brewery is a very special Umeshu with banana pulp. The banana makes the consistency very thick and gives a smooth aroma.
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).
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.
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?
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 ;-)
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