To coincide with Japanese Golden Week (which ends tomorrow), I decided to instill a Japanese theme into this week’s drinking.
I was first introduced to the sakes and liqueurs of Akashi-Tai when I visited their importers stand at the London Wine Fair last year, myself and a former colleague having been taken through the range by a very passionate chap.
The Akashi-Tai brand is made by the Akashi Sake Brewery Company in the eponymous city in the south of the Hyogo Prefecture. The company can trace its history back to the Tokugawa period (which ended in 1867), producing soy sauce and trading rice. They switched to sake production at the end of the First World War in 1918 and still use many local ingredients in their production today.
The member of the range that really caught our eye (and tastebuds) was their umeshu.
Often thought to be made from plums, umeshu is in fact made from ume (the fruit of the prunus mume tree – also called Chinese plum or Japanese apricot), scientifically being similar to greengages. In Akashi-Tai’s case, the base alcohol is ginjo sake, made from Yamada Nishiki rice (a short grain which is often thought to be the best for high quality sake production), milled to leave 60% of the outer layer. The ume are then steeped in the sake, creating an infusion.
We were so taken with it, that we managed to persuade our buyer to get us a few bottles when we returned to work the next day!
Like many sakes, umesu can be enjoyed both chilled and warm. I’ve previously only had it slightly chilled from the fridge, so let’s start with it warmed.
Akashi-Tai Shiraume Umeshu (Plum Infused Sake), 14%, 50cl, c.£15
Colour: Intense golden orange.
Nose: The plum note takes a back seat, allowing maltiness (from the rice?) to come to the fore.
Palate: A slightly sour note is apparent with a hint of plum flavours (become more apparent as the drink cools), but not much else. Rather disappointingly one dimensional, but maybe that’s what warm sake/sake-based drinks are supposed to be like.
Finish: Quite short, possibly the water diluting the flavours of the umeshu, leaving a slightly unpleasant bitterness (similar to tea tannin in mouth-feel).
Overall: This is a nice warming drink, but there isn’t a lot of flavour – I’m guessing this is what warm wine would be like if you didn’t add all the mulling spices, everything is just diluted.
Colour: Intense golden orange.
Nose: Concentrated nose of plum and cherry Bakewell tart.
Palate: Slightly sour citrus notes intertwined with sour cherry and plum and notes of almond in the background. The sweetness and sour notes are well-balanced.
Finish: The sour plum and cherry notes slowly disappear to leave a sweet aftertaste.
Overall: Personally I much prefer it at this temperature, though that may change if I repeated the tasting in the depths of winter!
As anyone who knows me realises, I do have a rather sweet tooth. At a slightly chilled temperature, this is my kind of drink – not too sweet or sickly, but packed full of fruit flavour. The only problem is it’s rather more-ish and the lack of noticeable alcohol makes it easy to forget it’s as alcoholic as a wine and two thirds of a bottle is never a good idea in one sitting (well no if you have anything to do the next day anyway!)
Now, I’m off to find anywhere that sells Akashi’s Princess of Rose liqueurs in the UK….