Oyama Yumekobo



Winner of Back-to-Back Gold Medals at National Umeshu Show. Aged Umeshu, the Pride of Oyama, the Home of Ume

★ Oyama in Hita City, Kyushu’s Largest Producer of Ume

The Oshukubai variety of ume, which features a large fruit and thicker skin, has an abundance of essence and a crisp acidity. It makes a delicious umeshu. ■The Oshukubai variety of ume, which features a large fruit and thicker skin, has an abundance of essence and a crisp acidity. It makes a delicious umeshu.

The waters of Chikugo River enrich the northern regions of Kyushu. Its main current is the Oyama River, which flows through the town of Oyama in Hita City, Oita Prefecture. Follow the mountain stream, where ayu sweetfish swim, about 10 kilometers from Hita’s city center, and you will encounter magnificent groves of ume trees stretching between the mountains. Due to the unsuitability of the area’s topography for growing rice, the whole town of Oyama pitched in to start planting the trees in 1961. Now, 56 years later, that policy has taken firm root in Oyama, along with the 6,000 or so ume trees, and the town has become one of the largest and best-known ume growing regions not only in Kyushu, but in all of Japan.

“I’m second-generation. My father started growing ume along with the town’s slogan of ‘Let’s grow ume and go to Hawaii’,” says Tomoharu Kawanobe. While working at a local company, Tomoharu has also been active in the local ume farmers’ cooperative, touring growing regions in other parts of Japan, and working to raise Oyama’s productivity. Until Tomoharu retired from his office job, the ume grove was looked after by his parents, and his wife, Masako.
“I arrived here as a bride when I was 21, and ever since our children started attending daycare, I have been involved in caring for the trees. On our 25th anniversary, just as the slogan said, he took me to Hawaii.” Even today, Masako goes out into the approximately 0.5-hectare field every morning to tend to the trees in the appropriate manner for each season.


★ Making ultra premium liqueur with 100% locally-grown ume

Oyama Yumekobo makes 5,000 bottles of umeshu a day. A clear umeshu passes from the tank through a filter and into bottles. ■Oyama Yumekobo makes 5,000 bottles of umeshu a day. A clear umeshu passes from the tank through a filter and into bottles.
After bottling, capping, and washing with warm water, the bottles of umeshu are lined up for inspection. They are checked for the condition of the bottles, the presence of contaminants, and other issues. ■After bottling, capping, and washing with warm water, the bottles of umeshu are lined up for inspection. They are checked for the condition of the bottles, the presence of contaminants, and other issues.

In a bid to create a new local specialty product with the “ultimate ume” that have been lovingly hand-grown by ume farmers like the Kawanobes, in 1998, an umeshu brewery was built on a hill surrounded by the ume groves. That brewery is Oyama Yumekobo, whose aim is to product “the ultimate umeshu.” The umeshu is made with highly-pure, tasteless and odorless distilled alcohol to bring out the flavor of the ume, and sugar syrup, to avoid bruising the fruit. With technical liquor-making expertise provided through a tie-up with Nikka Whisky, production of a special umeshu began.

Originally, many of the ume trees grown in Oyama were Oshukubai, an ume variety that has a history stretching back more than 1,000 years. Gradually, however, more and more groves shifted to the Nankoume variety, which is more suited to making umeboshi (dried and pickled ume), until that variety accounted for the majority of production in the region, and the number of Oshukubai trees visibly declined. Then, Oshukubai started to attract renewed attention for umeshu production. Its large fruit and strong acidity proved extremely suitable for making a sharp, crisp umeshu. Having had trouble finding ways to use the Oshukubai ume, the Kawanobes recall being very grateful to finally have an avenue for the fruit.



★ Ume plums picked in the morning are in the brewery’s tank by the afternoon

Yasuhisa Teshima deciding on the taste of the umeshu ■Yasuhisa Teshima deciding on the taste of the umeshu

Yasuhisa Teshima, who has worked as technical advisor to the Oyama Yumekobo for the past 11 years, said they started researching the production of a premium umeshu with the idea that aging the umeshu in barrels would create a more value-added product. For Mr. Teshima, who was originally a researcher at Nikka Whisky, the brewery’s technical partner, umeshu was very unfamiliar territory. However, he soon became immersed in his work of creating an umeshu that was unique to the region, made with high-quality ume. The close proximity to the producers, much like a French winery, also appealed to Mr. Teshima, because it allowed him to hear directly from the farmers about the quality of the ingredients.

“Depending on the variety, we make subtle changes to how long we age the wine, and compare the sweetness, acidity, and color to decide what would be most preferred. Being able to grow ume and use them to make a wonderful product, together with the local community, has truly special appeal. My job also makes me happy because something that I think tastes delicious is being enjoyed by so many people.” (Mr. Teshima)

★ Back-to-back gold medals in Japanese umeshu show

Barrel-Aged Premium Umeshu Yumehibiki, the 2015 gold medal winner. ■Barrel-Aged Premium Umeshu Yumehibiki, the 2015 gold medal winner.

This unique regional umeshu production, made with insistence on a particular ume variety and standard of quality, steadily attracted a growing fan base, and ten years ago, it received high acclaim from overseas buyers at the Bordeaux Wine Festival 2006 in France. In 2009, an Oyama Umeshu won a gold medal in the World Liqueur Contest, and here in Japan, at the Japan Umeshu Show, Oyama Yumekobo won a gold medal in the distilled alcohol umeshu category in 2015 and 2016. Today, it has become an umeshu that is garnering much attention both within Japan and from overseas.

The label that was crowned with dual gold medals, both internationally and in Japan, is Oyama Yumekobo’s Barrel-Aged Premium Umeshu Yumehibiki, which is also available on board the Seven Stars in Kyushu. The following year, the brewery’s Baika Ranman Premium, a blend umeshu, had the judges buzzing.
Yumehibiki is made by aging umeshu made with Oshukubai ume in tanks for three years, then in whisky barrels for another two years. The freshness of the umeshu is enhanced by the smoky aroma from the oak barrels, creating an indescribably luxurious flavor that fills the mouth.
Baika Ranman is made by blending Yumehibiki with three-year aged Oshukubai umeshu. It packs a stronger ume flavor than Yumehibiki.


Besides these two award-winning varieties, Yumekobo also produces a plentiful line-up of liqueurs, such as Rose Umeshu, in which umeshu is blended with the extract of edible roses that are locally grown without chemicals, Kodawari Umeshu, made with the Nankoume variety, and Blueberry Umeshu, made by marinating blueberries in umeshu.
Visit Oyama Yumekobo’s store, Umeshu Kura Oyama, to enjoy free tastings, a tour of the production process, and, along with distinctive umeshu varieties, a range of ume-based products such as umeboshi, ume jam, and ume dressing. You will gain a true sense that this umeshu has truly been born in “the home of ume.”
Mr. Teshima tells us that they plan to increase the number of storage barrels in the near future. We are sure to see even more exciting umeshu varieties emerge in coming years.