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 fruity aroma is 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 (Japanese 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 Plum Wine 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 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 stomachache). We only take the extract of the fruits by fermenting with lots of sugar or salt.
If you live in the Bay Area, you can contact John (415-297-1558 or sudachi.lover @ gmail. com) at Indian Valley Organic Farm to reserve your ume now for $6-8 per pound (up to 15 lbs and quantities above 15 lbs would be at a wholesale price (TBA)). The pickup location will be in San Rafael. The harvest date fluctuates, but he anticipates a harvest date in early to mid May.
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 the alcohol level at least 35% (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 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
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- Gather all the ingredients. You will need 5 L glass jar (you can buy in a Japanese grocery store).
- Rinse the jar thoroughly with soap and hot water and wipe with 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 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 additional 300 ml.
- 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.)
- I’ll post an update of the progress in 6 months and share how to enjoy plum wine in a year.
Follow same steps until step 7. Seal, write today's date on the jar, and store in a cool, dark place (no refrigerator) for 7 days. Shake the jar sometimes during this time.
On the 7th day, remove the plums from the jar before fruits go bad.
Strain the plum and syrup in a fine strainer over a large pot. Keep the plums.
Simmer (not boil) for 15-20 minutes on low heat. Let it cool and the syrup is done.
To drink you can dilute with club soda or water. To store, keep syrup in a sterilized airtight jar in the refrigerator up to 6 months.
They are not tasty as there is no more flavor left and the texture is hard. You can revive the hard plums by cooking them. You can make plum jam with leftover plums and sugar in a pot. You can add the jam in yogurt, gelatin desserts, cake, etc.
You will need a 5 L glass jar. You can find this jar in Japanese grocery stores.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.