More and more people, it seems, are starting to discover the charms of shochu, a traditional Japanese spirit not unlike schnapps. Distilled from a variety of ingredients – from sweet potato and barley to rice and corn – the majority of shochu is made at the southernmost tip of the Japanese archipelago on the island of Kyushu in the Kagoshima Prefecture which, as it happens, is the only prefecture in Japan that doesn't make sake.
Yamamoto Shuzo has been making shochu for over 100 years in Satsumasendai City, in the northwest of Kagoshima. The city is surrounded by the sea and mountains and the producer uses the pure groundwater from the sacred 'Gwanaksan' mountain to brew its shochu, adding fresh sweet potatoes from the region. Now the distiller has gone a step further by producing a shochu-based liqueur – with startling results.
Yamamoto Shuzu's Nigori Umeshu liqueur, which is made by infusing ume plums in sweet potato shochu, took the 2020 IWSC Liqueur Trophy with the judges heralding it as "very expressive and bold with a big sweetness and a nice smooth rice note balanced by zesty, ripe green plums.
Tell us about the essence of Nigori Umeshu
Nigori Umeshu is made by marinating ume plums in sweet potato shochu. The recipe for this plum liqueur was actually created at home by our chairman, Yamamoto Hiroyoshi, and we then reproduced it at our distillery. The final product is made by using fully ripe nanko-umes – the top variety of plums, which have an amazing aroma that's very similar to that of a peach.
What's the most important part of your philosophy of distilling?
Raw materials and intuition are the key to our success. Our master brewers respect the raw materials –such as the sweet potato – that they work with, and they've gained an immense amount of knowledge over the years that then turns into intuition when creating our liqueurs and shochus.
What makes the Nigori Umeshu so special?
We only use natural products such as the best fully-ripe nanko-ume and rock sugar in a special, sweet potato shochu. We don't use flavouring agents or acidifiers. Instead, we believe a high grade nanko-ume purée gives the Nigori Umeshu the richest and fruitiest flavour.
Yamamoto Shuzo's production site opened in 1986
Give us one reason why every barman in the world should be stocking the Nigori Umeshu
This is an essential ingredient for any bartender as it adds a natural, rich fruity plum flavour, all while delviering the sweetness and aroma of the sweet potato shochu.