The mere thought of an Asian liqueur conjures up images of the exotic, and with good reason – they bring new dimensions of aroma and flavour compared to their Western counterparts. You’ll find them made with yuzu (a hybrid of lime, lemon and grapefruit), ume (a sour fruit similar to plum and apricot), and aromatic oolong and green tea.
As with other liqueurs, they’re made by infusing a base ingredient with some form of spirit and sweetener. And, like many liqueurs, they were originally prescribed for their medicinal qualities. The antioxidant-rich umeshu, for example, was often taken to cure sore throats and colds, and sooth aching muscles.
As is so often the case with Asian food and drink, purity is a highly regarded element, and the IWSC’s award-winning Asian liqueurs display this in abundance.
Yamamoto Shuzo’s Leona Sparkling Yuzu liqueur, for example, wowed the judges with its ‘tartness, refreshing balance and underlying floral complexity’; while Chongqing Jiangji Distillery’s Meijian Smoky Flavor Liqueur harmonises its ‘smoky umami nose’ with a ‘clean and refreshing big smoky finish’.
Asian liqueurs are making their mark among bartenders and mixologists, too, particularly given the trend in the past couple of years for all things tea-related – step into any decent cocktail bar today and you’ll find an array of tea-infused cocktails, with Asian liqueurs and ingredients at their heart.
The Asian liqueur category is one of the most exciting around – here are 10 fantastic examples from the IWSC’s recent tasting.Japan
Yamamoto Shuzo Nigori Umeshu
Very expressive and bold with a big sweetness, balanced by zesty green plums. There is a nice smooth rice note with plenty of ripe and green plums.
Hombo Shuzo Joto Umeshu Kokuto Liqueur
Toffee and dried fruits on the nose. Rich and flavoursome on the palate. Lovely balance. The honeyed aromas and sweet caramel flavours are balanced by crisp zesty acidity.
A very fine Yuzu that floods the senses with lemon and lime aromas and underlying floral complexity. The palate has a lovely tartness that gives it a very refreshing balance alongside the warm, spicy and classic bitter citrus notes.
Hombo Shuzo Joto Umeshu Chiran-Cha Liqueur
Balanced and fresh with a nice citrus zest and fresh ripe plums. The green tea note is subtle, but it adds to the aroma composition and the texture.
Hombo Shuzo Joto Umeshu Liqueur
Big, floral and aromatic, with a lovely balance between sweetness and sour plum notes. The palate is subtle and elegant with a great balance.
Hombo Shuzo Joto Umeshu Yuzu Liqueur
Unctuous honey, orange and lemon notes on the nose with a bold sweetness on the palate and a touch of almond essence that is balanced with light, zesty acidity.China
Shanxi Xinghua Cun Fenjiu Distillery Zhuyeqing Jiu 10 YO Liqueur
Very complex, with wood and creamy notes, as well as spices and nuts. Spicy, meaty and earthy undertones with a bit of umami. RRP £70 available from SlurpIntoxicating Silk Road Ume & Tea Jasmine Green Tea Wine Liqueur
Intoxicating Silk Road Ume & Tea Oolong Tea Wine Liqueur
Deep and earthy with a quince-like grainy edge to it and subtle, but very nicely focused, jasmine notes. The finish is mouthcoating and zesty at the same time.
The fresh natural tea aromas and flavours are delivered very precisely, with a fine tannin layer on the palate, married with fine fruity notes.Chongqing Jiangji Distillery Meijian Smoky Flavor Liqueur
Smoky umami nose with restrained fruit. Light on the palate with delicate flavours on the entry. Zesty, tannic sensation with balancing sweetness, clean and refreshing big smoky finish.
More liqueur recommendations