The Japanese plum, ume, in Japanese foods and drinks is a popular flavor that is usually added to products such as sweets, teas, candies and more.
Another direct product made with the Japanese plum is the famed “umeshu” — a popular plum liqueur in Japan. Available in bars, izakayas and wherever alcohol is sold, umeshu is a liqueur with a unique taste of Japan.
Harvesting of Plums, Turned into Liqueur
The ume trees bloom in March every year, and a few months later by June, the fruits have arrived. The fruits of the ume tree are the ones that are famously used for making umeshu — Japanese plum liqueur.
Umeshu’s production is pretty easy: the liqueur is made by soaking plums into white alcohol (shōchū) and sugar, and then stored for some time for it to turn into it's distinct flavor. It is blended with the sweetness of the sugar, and bitterness of the alcohol, now transforming to a taste of its own. The more time that the umeshu has been stored before opened, the better the taste and the darker the color.
Umeshu sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and alcohol shops comes in several varieties and bottle sizes. While some come in more nicer bottles, some are also sold in paper cartons or cans. You will also find umeshu sold in bottles that contain an actual plum. A bottle of umeshu with the plum inside is a great souvenir gift idea. The Japanese plum liqueur comes in many price classes and brands as well, with some being more famous than others. It is a sweet liqueur and can therefore be tasted or enjoyed fairly easily (going by the taste), and it’s alcohol content varies from very low at 5% to bigger at 20%.
Umeshu rokku by Jun Ohwada on Flickr
When umeshu is sold in bars and izakayas, you will most likely get it served on the rocks — Umeshu Rokku, meaning it is served cold with ice cubes. Some umeshu can be enjoyed more like a sake, meaning a beautiful bottle will be brought over to your table. It is neither not uncommon that your glass of umeshu will be served with a plum inside.
Making Your Own Umeshu
Making your own umeshu is certainly something that a lot of people do in Japan. It’s an easy process and requires very few ingredients. Green unripened fruits should be used, but fruits turned yellow by the ripening process can also be used. Once you have harvested or bought a few kgs of Japanese plums, you can now take them home to make your own liqueur. Fruits should be washed properly, with their caps then removed. Once clean, they can be soaked in white liquor (that can be bought from the supermarket or convenience store) with sugar cubes. A special umeshu bottle can be used to make the liqueur, and this can be purchased at home and kitchen supplies stores, as well as 100 yen shops. The bottle is big, but it's handle also makes it easier to shake to mix the ingredients it's containing.
The whole process of making umeshu requires patience and at least three or four months of waiting. After mixing the ingredients in the umeshu making bottle, you should store it in a dark and dry place. Every month, from time to time, you should check on your liqueur and give it a good shake. You will see that the liquid has turned darker, meaning that the umeshu is coming to life. After minimum three months, the liqueur can be opened and served, but some prefer to wait as long as up to six or 12 months before taking the first sip. Waiting longer makes the taste become better over time.
Although fairly easy to make your own Japanese plum liquor, umeshu is widely available anywhere alcohol is sold, meaning that you can enjoy it when you want without the wait and at your own convenience.