Craft beer has become all the rage in recent years. It’s certainly good to see interest in the art of brewing beer on the rise, but craft beer is essentially a marketing exercise. No more ‘craft’ goes into making beer in a tiny brewery than goes into making beer made in an enormous one. Many large volume beer makers continue to pump out top quality beer, while many small-scale operations are mediocre.

Nonetheless, a bandwagon is on the move, and the drinks trade is having to sit up and take notice of ‘craft’. Among them are many wine and spirit makers put out by the suggestion that any more ‘craft’ goes into making their tipples than goes into ‘craft’ beer brewing.

Not to be wrongfooted by Japan’s burgeoning craft beer brewers, a Kyoto shochu distiller has released a ‘craft’ ume chu hai 梅酎ハイor ‘plum shochu highball’ (shochu is a Japanese spirit usually distilled from rice).

Takara’s Craft Kyoto Aodani no Ume is named after Aodani, a region on the southern edge of Kyoto famed for its plum orchards. Commanding a distant view of sacred Mt. Jubo, the Aodani bairin 梅林 (plum grove) is situated in the gently sloping hills that rise from the Aodani River. The 20-hectare grove has been renowned as a scenic spot since olden times.

Its 10,000 plum trees are mainly fragrant, white-blossomed Joshuhaku. Takara Craft has created a rich plum puree from Joshuhaku plums from Aodani Bairin and combined it with their shochu to create a chu hai that is second to none.

Takara Craft’s shochu distillery is in Takanabe, a town in Miyazaki prefecture. They have 85 types of barrel-aged shochu, with a variety of personalities depending on the fermentation, distillation, and storage methods. Being aged in barrels, their shochu has a rich taste, which compliments the sweet, mellow aroma and light acidity unique to Joshuhaku plums.

Takara Craft says that Kyoto Aodani no Ume chu hai owes its special taste to what it calls hitotema-zukuri 一手間作り - ‘handmade with a twist’ – its own, closely guarded, enigmatic manufacturing method. Perhaps in order to up the ante further, it is only available in Kyoto prefecture, Shiga prefecture, Fukui prefecture, Ishikawa prefecture and Toyama prefecture. Craft beer makers: put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Tora Craft Kyoto Aodani no Ume is 8% alcohol by volume. A 330 ml bottle costs ¥268, excluding tax. It was released for sale on September 1st.

By - George Lloyd.