Episode-57: Understanding Umeshu with Todd Van Horne

Episode Image

Umeshu might be one of the most universally pleasing drink categories on the planet. Its characteristic sweet and spunky qualities can be served up any myriad of ways and seem to tickle just about everyone’s taste buds no matter how you spin it.

However, while the style may seem relatively straightforward, the category is anything but.

The content of this show tends to stick very close to the core categories of its namesake: sake and shochu. However, when it comes to umeshu, in order to fully understand the depth and breadth of what’s out there, we have to open up the conversation to the wider world of drinks and spirits.

To help us unravel its nuance and mysteries, this week we’ve recruited Todd Van Horne. Having a long history in Japan, focusing primarily on food and fermentation, he’s found himself smack in the heart of Japan’s “ume country” – Wakayama – where he wound up working with an ume producer creating, blending and transporting umeshu to the global market. The number of non-Japanese taking up roles as sake brewers here and there is on the rise, but in the world of ume and umeshu-dedicated individuals, Todd is indeed an outlier.

From the significance of ume in the Japanese diet, to the beverage’s historical position as a do-it-yourself creation, this week your hosts Rebekah Wilson-Lye, Christopher Pellegrini, and Justin Potts join forces with our special guest to try and cover all you’ll need to know to start discerning what questions to ask about that next bottle of umeshu that you encounter in the wild.

Please help new listeners discover Sake On Air by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you depend upon for your podcast enjoyment. Reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.staba.jp with any thoughts, feelings or kind words about the show. You can follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook as well, and if you’d be so kind, don’t forget to subscribe to us over on YouTube.

Thanks for listening this week, and thanks for choosing sake and shochu.


Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.