It’s been a year in the making, but I finally cracked open my jars of homemade umeshu (plum wine) a couple months ago, and I am pleased to say that it was sweet with a wonderful sourness, incredibly fragrant and deliciously alcoholic. Basically, summer in a glass.
Umeshu isn’t a drink that’s commonly seen in anime, maybe because most anime is set in high school and minors can’t technically drink on TV… But, I did see it once (ONCE!!) on an episode of Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou, and since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to make it myself.
Have you ever seen umeshu/plum wine in anime before? Or, have you ever tried it in real life?
About the recipe:
It’s really easy! You can do it!!! Of course, you can buy umeshu in stores, but what I love about making my own is not only how amazingly fragrant the home version is, but also that you can really control the sweetness. I find a lot of store bought umeshu way too sweet, so making it at home lets you customize it to your personal preferences.
Probably the most important step of this recipe is sterilizing your jars. Use a big glass jar with a tight lid and a 5L capacity for this recipe, because your plum wine will have to sit for a rather long time (like years, depending on how fast you drink it!) and you don’t want a plastic container to degrade or impart any weird taste on your umeshu.
To sterilize your jars, first wash the jars well with soap and hot water. If your jars are heatproof, you can also then use boiling water to sterilize the inside of the jar. Let the jars air dry, and then use your 35% alcohol to wipe down the inside of the jar and the lid. Let it dry, and then proceed with the recipe.
The sugar amount is given in a range so that you can decide for yourself just how sweet you want your umeshu to be. That said, this recipe is for a version of umeshu that is drinkable straight out of the jar. It’s pretty alcoholic but does not need to be diluted by ice/sparkling water, etc., unlike some commercial brands of umeshu. If you want more of an alcoholic ume “syrup” (I’m using the term loosely here) that must be diluted to be drunk, double the sugar amount in the recipe below.
About the ingredients:
Ume is a type of stone fruit that is commonly known in English as “Japanese plum”. For this recipe, use unripe ume, which are hard, small, green in color, and really sour. This is the same fruit that’s turned into umeboshi (pickled plums)! As the fruit ripens, it turns yellow, sometimes with a blush of red.
In Japan, they’re sold in every grocery store from the end of May through June. The period that they’re available is short, so act quickly if you want to make it! But, in other parts of the world, ume might be harder to find. When I lived in Chicago, I know you could buy them from a Japanese grocery store chain called Mitsuwa. You might have to preorder them, so call to find out… Or, check your local farmers markets or asian grocers! You never know what you might find.
Alcohol is an integral part of this recipe… It should be 35% alcohol or more. I used “white liquor” (which, I believe is just vodka or shochu) and brandy. Basically, I used the cheapest stuff I could find in the liquor store… it’s nothing fancy and I would never drink it on its own, but it came in big 1.8L cartons.
As the sugar dissolves and the ume soak in the alcohol, the alcohol content will lower significantly from 35% to… I’m not exactly sure what percent, but mine is definitely stronger than wine but not nearly as strong as liquor, so I’m going to guess 20% or so.
Rock sugar is what sweetens the plum wine. The large pieces of sugar let the sugar dissolve slowly into the liquor, drawing out the fragrant flavor of the plums. You could use regular granulated white sugar, but it won’t taste quite as good, since it will dissolve too quickly into the alcohol.
Umeshu (plum wine)
Makes about 2 litres
- 1 kg (2.2 lbs) ume (Japanese plum)
- 400 – 500g rock sugar (depending on your preference)
- 1.8L (60.8 oz) white liquor, vodka, brandy, or any distilled liquor that is 35% alcohol or more
- Using a toothpick or thin metal skewer, carefully remove the stem from the ume without damaging the fruit. Carefully wash each ume in cold water, paying close attention to cleaning the area around the stem.
- Soak the ume in cold water over night to reduce the bitterness in the skins. The following day, drain the ume from the water and let dry on a towel-lined tray. While the ume are drying, sterilize the glass jar and lid.
- In the dry and sterilized jar, gently place the ume in the jar along with the rock sugar. Pour in the alcohol and seal the jar. Label and date your jar. Place in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Swirl the contents of the jar everyday until the sugar dissolves, once a week for the next 2-3 months, then once a month onward.
- After 6 months, your umeshu will be an amber color and will be ready to taste, though I waited almost a year to start drinking mine. The flavor will mature and mellow even further the longer it sits, so look forward to seeing how it develops over time! The plums are edible, as well. Nibble on them – they’re sour, crunchy, and rather alcoholic!
Serve on at room temperature, gently heated (perfect for winter!), or with ice (perfect for summer!).