Umeshu, or plum wine, is a popular sweet drink inside and outside Japan. This tasty drink is a great aperitif and also wonderful as a dessert wine after dinner. It’s often served chilled, over ice, or mixed with soda water.
Late May into June is the season for green plums. It’s not long and that’s the only time of the year for harvesting these plums in Japan, so there is a short window of opportunity to make plum wine. Making Umeshu at home used to be much more popular in the past and each family handed down their own recipe from generation to generation. Sadly, people make less at home now since it is easy to find cheap plum wines in liquor stores. However, home-made Umeshu is so good that there is no comparison to store-bought ones.
It seems it should be easy to find ingredients for Umeshu since there are only plums, liquor, and sugar, but it’s surprisingly hard outside Japan. While the ingredients sound common, each is actually a special kind. The plums for Umeshu need to be Japanese green plums which are very sour and inedible raw, not the red plums you can buy at local stores in the US. For liquor, we use a distilled spirit called “white liquor” which is a kind of Shochu without any color or odor so as not to interfere with fruit flavor. It is very strong, with a 35% alcohol level. Sugar needs to be Koorizatou, chunky crystallized sugar.
To make Umeshu here in the US or wherever you are, we have to improvise a little. If you can’t find “white liquor”, you can substitute Korean Shochu called Jinro which is colorless and odorless but only 25% alcohol – that is the minimum level for Umeshu. Or you could use odorless white vodka if you can’t find any Shochu. You could use rock sugar or rock candy instead of Koorizatou but not granulated sugar. Slow releasing sugar helps to extract the plums’ flavor and aroma into the alcohol. Japanese plums, however, cannot be substituted. Without these plums, it’s not Umeshu. They can be found in Japanese markets or some Asian stores during the season.
You can start drinking Umeshu after it’s been resting for 6 months or so, but it’s better to wait for a year or longer (you may want to write the date you started on the container). The smell and flavor ripen as it ages. It may be hard to find ingredients, and it’s not quick, but home-made Umeshu is so good it’s worth the work. It’s so yummy and you will never go back to the bottles again!
- 500g green plum
- 500g rock sugar
- 1000ml odorless Shochu such as "white liquor" or Jinro (Korean Shochu)
- To sanitize a container to be able to keep the wine for a long time, pour boiling water in the container, drain, and air dry. Wipe inside the container with Shochu.
- Wash plums, dry well, and remove hulls with a toothpick.
- Layer plums and sugar alternately in the container. Add Shochu. The plums and sugar should be completely covered.
- Seal and store in a cool, dark place (but not in a refrigerator).
- For the first month, gently move the container every couple of days so that sugar and the liquor mix well. After that, do the same thing every couple of weeks. Drinkable after 6-12 months.