Plum Wine or Umeshu (梅酒) is a Japanese liqueur made by steeping fresh Japanese plum (ume) in shochu/white liquor and sugar. The sweet and sour flavors with the fruity aroma are very appealing and you can make many kinds of drinks with it! Inspired by the Japanese drama – Midnight Diner.
It’s the Japanese plum (ume) season! I remember my grandma made plum wine or umeshu (梅酒) and stored it in the cool dark underground storage of her kitchen until they’re ready to be enjoyed. There were several big jars of umeshu from different years.
This sweet alcohol drink was featured on the popular Japanese TV program called “Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂)” or “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” which is available on Netflix.
Midnight Diner features dishes that are more representative of Japanese home-cooked recipes that you might not have seen in your local Japanese restaurants. “Sour Plum & Plum Wine” episode is Season 1, Episode 6 on Netflix.
What is Umeshu (Plum Wine)
From the mid-May to early June, it’s ume (Japanese plum) season here in California. During this short period of time when fresh ume is available, the Japanese make plum wine, or what we call Umeshu (梅酒) with still unripe and green plums.
I’m not much of a drinker, but I do enjoy drinking homemade umeshu from time to time. Have you tried it before? If you visited Japan and stayed at a ryokan (Japanese-style inn), you might have tried this drink before your kaiseki meal (懐石料理) as an aperitif, or Shokuzen-shu (食前酒).
It’s SUPER easy to make this homemade fruit wine, less than 15 minutes! Okay, I also should mention that you have to wait for at least 6 months (1 year is recommended) before you enjoy your homemade plum wine… but it’s SO worth it. Plus you get to share homemade umeshu with your guests when they come over. Let’s make it with me this year (share your photo with #justonecookbook on Instagram) so we can celebrate and enjoy together at this time next year! You and me!
3 Ingredients to Make Umeshu at Home
It’s just 3 simple ingredients to make umeshu at home. You can get all these ingredients at Japanese grocery stores. If they carry green plums, they also know that you’ll need the special rock sugar, liquor, and the glass jar.
1. Green Ume Plums
You have to use these tart and sour green plums to make the plum wine and not any other types of plums you see in the store. Both Japanese and Korean grocery stores sell these plums during this season, so keep an eye on these plums in May.
These raw green plums are not edible as they are too tart and bitter (also if you eat too many of them, it is said you’ll likely have a stomachache). We only take the extract of the fruits by fermenting with lots of sugar or salt.
- Turkish sour plums (can erik) – A reader in Europe got them from a Turkish market and used them in this recipe. He said his umeshu tasted as good as the one he had in Japan!
2.White Rock Sugar/Candy
Instead of regular white sugar, we use white rock sugar/candy to make plum wine. Rock sugar takes time to dissolve, which helps to extract the flavors and fragrance from the plums at a slower pace. You can buy it on Amazon if your local Japanese/Asian grocery stores don’t carry it. You could also use white granulated sugar but remember that it’ll not taste as good. I would encourage you to find rock sugar as you invest your time (once a year) to make this drink.
3. Distilled Spirits/Liquor
To make plum wine, we need neutral, colorless, near-flavorless distilled spirits/liquor such as shochu (焼酎) and vodka. Make sure it is at least 35% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 70 proof. The plum wine could become spoiled when alcohol percentage go down being diluted by the fruit juice from the plum.
In Japan, we have a liquor called “White Liquor” (ホワイトリカー), which we use for making plum wine or fruit wine. If you can’t find it, don’t sweat it and use shochu or vodka.
Shochu is a Japanese distilled beverage with less than 45% by alcohol by volume. It’s typically distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, or brown sugar.
How About Glass Jar?
You can get this on Amazon or Japanese grocery stores during the green plum season.
Where to Get Ume Plums
You have to use tart, sour, and firm green ume plums to make the syrup and not any other types of plums you see in the store. Both Japanese and Korean grocery stores sell these plums around early to mid-May.
These raw green plums are not edible as they are too tart and bitter (also if you eat too many of them, it is said you’ll likely have a stomachache). We only take the extract of the fruits by fermenting them with lots of sugar or salt.
If you live in the United States, you can contact my friend John to reserve your ume plums for $8 per pound. The plums can be picked up in San Rafael (SF Bay Area) or shipped to your home.
How To Enjoy Umeshu
After a year, you can finally get to enjoy your plum wine. The flavor and fragrance of the plum wine ripen as it ages, so make sure to store in a cool, dark place for years to come! You might want to start making two batches if you can’t stop drinking it. 😉
Umeshu can be served at different temperatures; chilled or with ice, room temperature, or even hot in the winter.
- Umeshu On the Rocks (梅酒ロック): Put a big ice cube in a glass and pour the plum wine.
- Umeshu Sour (梅酒サワー): Mix the plum wine with ume-flavor shochu and soda water.
- Umeshu Tonic (梅酒トニック) Mix 30 ml plum wine with 90 ml tonic water.
- Umeshu Soda (梅酒ソーダ割り): Mix one part plum wine with one part carbonated water.
- Umeshu Oyuwari (梅酒お湯割り): Mix one part plum wine with one part warm water.
- Umeshu Ochawari (梅酒お茶割り): Mixed one part plum wine with one part hot/cold black or green tea.
Updates on Homemade Umeshu
What To Do with the Plums in the Wine?
After 12 months of making delicious plum wine, the plums are ready to retire. Your plums did a tremendous job making your delicious plum wine for a year. Now that their job is done, it doesn’t mean it’s time to toss them away. This amazing stone fruit is the fruit that never stops giving.
You can totally eat the ume plums from the wine! Serve them with your plum wine so you can nibble them while you drink, but if you’re looking into other ways to utilize those used plums, here are some ideas on how to consume them.
- Make jams for your breakfast toasts, yogurt, gelatin dessert
- Bake a cake with plums (just like other fruit cakes)
- Make cocktails with crushed plums
- Use in savory dishes
- Gather all the ingredients. You will need a 4-L glass jar (you can buy in a Japanese or Korean grocery store).
- Rinse the jar thoroughly with soap and hot water and wipe with a clean towel. While the jar is still hot, pour boiling water and shake to clean and drain. Air dry until completely dry. Damp the clean towel with shochu (or your choice of liquor) and wipe inside the jar.
- Wash and dry the plums thoroughly.
- Remove all the stem ends from the plums with a bamboo skewer or tooth pick. Discard the plums with any brown or blemished spots.
- Measure the weight for rock sugar. I recommend the sugar amount to be between the half weight of the plums (1.1 lb or 500 g) to equal weight (2.2 lb or 1 kg). You just have to try it out to find out your liking (which you will find out after a year). I like to use 800 g. The best part is that it’s easy to remember too, 1 kg plums, 800 g sugar, and 1.8 L liquor.
- In the clean jar, put the plums in a single layer. Then cover the plums with rock sugar.
- Then put the plums in a single layer again, followed by sugar. Repeat this process until you’re done with the plums and sugar.
- Pour 1.8 L of your choice of liquor. This bottle of shochu is 750 ml, so you’ll need 2 bottles and an additional 300 ml. If you have leftover shochu, you can make this Yuzu cocktail.
- After pouring shochu, it looks like this.
- Seal, write today's date on the jar, and store in a cool, dark place (no refrigerator). See you in a year! (You can start drinking from 6 months but I recommend to wait for a whole year.)
1 Year Later…
- Remove the plums from the jar and use them for other recipes. You can leave them in the jar for 2-3 years as long as you use green plum (firm and not ripen) and 35% alcohol. (the liquid in the jar is a bit less in the photo because I had to pour some out for filming the video)
What should we do with the used plums?
- You can make Plum Jam by cooking the plum and sugar (spread on toast, add in yogurt, make gelatin dessert), or bake a cake with it, make cocktails with crushed plums, or use in savory dishes.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on May 25, 2017. The video and new images are added to the post in May 2018.