“Not quite a lemon, not quite an orange”
That’s how an NHK article describes yuzu (ゆず), a citrus commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It goes on to say: “Yuzu is a sour fruit, so it is rarely eaten on its own. Instead, the skin and juice of yuzu is used in cooking: the juice can season various dishes, just like lemon juice does, and yuzu peel is used as garnish — not only does it add a beautiful, vibrant color to a dish, but it also provides a little punch.”
The Wife is a huge fan of yuzu in all its forms. Whenever she sees something with the word ゆず printed on the label, her take-my-money-please mode is immediately activated — from yuzu kosho to yuzu shichimi to yuzu ponzu to yuzu mayo to yuzu honey to yuzu essential oils to a wonderful yuzu nabe dinner in Kyoto.
I’m not immune either, especially since my favourite animal seems to thoroughly enjoy soaking in a yuzu-infused hot spring. Just look at the contented faces of these capybaras in the Izu Shaboten Zoo, as they lie down among the floating citrus.
When I grow up, I want to be a capybara.
So, when yuzu sake popped up as we were window shopping online, it was a no-brainer. The only problem was the many different brands available, and we didn’t know which one we’d like best.
We googled around and after reading various reviews, we bought the Umenoyado Yuzu Shu from Nara prefecture.
It had a mellow yellow colour and the bottle had a simple label with not just yuzu written in hiragana but also an illustration of the fruit itself, so there’s no mistaking what’s inside.
We first sipped it neat, but the taste was too concentrated. Then we had it on the rocks, and it was lovely. The taste was unmistakably yuzu, citrusy with a pleasant bitter afternote, swimming in a sea of smooth sake.
We were hooked, and bought another three bottles.
But as we slowly drew down the stockpile, there was always this nagging thought on our minds: “What if the other brands are even better?”
And when you’re faced with this kind of dilemma, there’s only one logical solution — buy them all.
The Hakutsuru Marugotoshibori Nigori Yuzushu from Hyogo prefecture was the next to arrive…
… followed by the Kozaemon Yuzu Junmai Sake from Gifu prefecture a couple of weeks later.
With all three bottles in hand, we decided to do a taste test over the weekend to see which was our favourite. Our baseline was the Umenoyado, and we used it to compare against the other two.
The Hakutsuru didn’t rate well. The first whiff reminded me of the syrupy sweet Sunkist cordial that I used to drink when I was young. It still tasted of yuzu, but it was too sweet and didn’t have the signature bitter aftertaste. The flavour was almost artificial, even though no chemical additives were used.
The Kozaemon fared much better, though the smell and taste of sake fermentation was a bit too strong. The yuzu tasted more natural, though I’d describe it more as Sake Yuzu rather than Yuzu Sake, since there was a dominant flavour of unfiltered sake followed by a bready aftertaste. Not unpleasant, by any measure, but not quite to our liking.
The Umenoyado was the clear winner of the comparative taste test, and The Wife proceeded to buy another three bottles. Because, yuzu addict.
|Price||S$ 43.55||S$ 46.50||S$ 29.90|
|Taste||10 / 10||8 / 10||5 / 10|
We still had to finish the remainder of the other two bottles, and we’ve been drinking them individually over the past few days. Interestingly, on their own, they were actually quite nice.
If we had tried the Hakutsuru first, we’d probably have liked it enough to order more. Likewise for the Kozaemon. I guess we were lucky that: (i) the Umenoyado was our first purchase, and (ii) we did a back-to-back taste test. Human senses are definitely much better at detecting differences.
Taste is inherently subjective, so you might come to a different conclusion. But a word of warning before you go down this rabbit hole. Yuzu sake is very addictive, so think twice before you start, or you may very well end up just like us.