By Luc Gougeon
Making umeshu, or plum wine, is a highly orchestrated and seasonal activity in Japan. Walk into any supermarket at the end of May and you are bound to see a display of glass or plastic jugs, unripe plums, rock sugar and cartons of mysterious alcohol that you can use to brew your own batch of this sweet yet sour liquor. It’s the perfect umeshu kit just waiting for you. Everything you need is right there.
From the get-go, let me tell you that umeshu is not my drink of choice. I find the commercial umeshu too sweet for my taste, but the homemade stuff is great once in a while.
I made umeshu last year with my mother-in-law for the first time in my life and the whole process is pretty simple.
When you are buying your umeshu kit, consider what kind of alcohol you’ll want to make it with. Umeshu can be made with white alcohol or brandy. Both are stacked next to the plums. These alcohols are pretty basic and rough, but their taste is meant to smooth out with the addition of sugar, plums and time. You could also technically make umeshu with any neutral alcohol like vodka or your favorite shochu.
First, wash the green plums and dry them completely. Once dried, remove the remains of the stem with a toothpick or the tip of a sharp knife.
Wash the jar really well and sterilize it with hot water or some of the alcohol.
Second, transfer your plums to the jar and add the sugar and alcohol.
You should add about 50 percent of the weight of the plums in rock sugar. If you like your umeshu really sweet, add a bit more. Rock sugar will melt slowly, but any sugar can be used, including honey.
Pour in the alcohol until in just covers everything.
That’s pretty much it! Write the date on the jar, find a cool, dark place and let the umeshu age like wine. About once a month give the jar a small shake to distribute the sugar evenly. Umeshu is kept under the kitchen floor in many old Japanese houses since it’s the darkest and coldest place; there is a trap in the kitchen floor for that specific purpose. I had the chance to drink some umeshu that had been aged for more than 20 years and the taste was simply incredible. Not planning to be here for 20 years? Don’t worry — it should be ready after a few months, but if you wait a year, you will get the best out of this drink.