The Nakano brewery produces award-winning sake (rice wine), umeshu (plum wine) and spirits. Nakano is based in Wakayama prefecture, south of Osaka in Japan.

For those new to sake and umeshu, sake is brewed using polished rice, with the rice starches converting to alcohol. The alcohol content is similar to grape wine, typically at around 13% to 16%. Whereas umeshu (plum wine) is produced using the fruit ume, which is a Japanese plum variety known for its tartness.

Even though Nakano has grown to be the largest sake and umeshu producer in its region, it continues to use traditional production methods. Their sake is still hand-made under the watchful eye of the tōji (chief brewer). Nakano’s attention to their craft has seen their sake even commissioned for Kitchō, one of Japan’s most iconic restaurants (the ultra ginjō white label, available at Moore Wilson’s).

Wakayama is famous as Japan’s ‘fruit basket’ and is particularly famous for its ume fruit. In fact, “Wakayama umeshu” is a protected name in Japan, just like “Champagne” in France. This means that to be allowed to use the name, Nakano must use only local fruit, and meet standards like a minimum steeping period and fruit-to-liquid ratio.

To get maximum flavour and aroma in the umeshu, the ume fruit needs to be steeped in liquid as soon as possible after being picked. For this reason, Nakano insists that local farmers bring them only ume that have been picked that day. Then, on the same day, the team at Nakano will hand-sort and wash the fruit in water, before immersing them using a proprietary tiered system. All up, the aging process for Nakano umeshu is 12 months from the day the fruit is picked to when it’s ready to enjoy.

Nakano also likes to draw on its region’s rich heritage. You might notice a picture of a sailing vessel on their best-selling sake series. This is a tribute to Kinokuniya Bunzaemon, a local legend who made his fortune selling citrus to Edo (old Tokyo) in the 17th century.

Nakano’s NZ distributor, Evergreen Export, first imported Nakano sake to NZ in the early 1980s. Today, Evergreen aims to make Nakano’s quality sake and umeshu more accessible to a NZ audience. With the hope that they will not only enjoy the product, but that it will also give a window into Japanese craftsmanship and culture.

Umeshu Cocktail Recipes (3 Ways)

Soda Fizz

Mix soda and umeshu in equal parts and stir lightly. Serve chilled or over ice in a tall glass with a lemon or orange slice.

Umeshu Beer

Mix one part umeshu and two parts low malt beer and stir lightly. Serve chilled or over ice in a tall glass for an easy-drinking coktail. Beer suggestions: Asahi, or Garage Project Hatsukoi


Mix one part umeshu, one part whiskey and five parts soda. Stir lightly. Serve on ice in a whiskey tumbler. Garnish with one slice of lemon.