Making Umeshu/Plum liqueur

One thing most of my friends know is that I’m not a “hard” drinker.  Oh, I do imbibe the occasional cocktail or liqueur, and have tried the local Japanese shochu and other alcohols… but always in moderation.  I have never gotten drunk – and never intend to.

Friends I’ve spoken to say that I should try it sometime, that for them it’s a great way to relax and forget about stresses and cares, but… I’ll pass.  Everything I’ve seen about intoxication, whether it’s what I’ve read about the splitting hangovers, or hear friends tell me that they don’t remember anything that happened the night before, or watch salarymen puking their guts out in the streets… nah, no thanks, I do think I’ll pass. 😉

I don’t think I’m particularly “weak” to alcohol, I thankfully don’t experience the “instant red face” symptom that many Japanese seem to display when drinking even lightly (due to some missing enzyme I believe).  The most I’ve ever drunk was at a company gathering where co-workers were recommending various Japanese shochu, nihonshu, wine, and “sours”.  I did feel somewhat light-headed when it was time to go, but still didn’t have any issues getting back home (no wobbly legs, no blackouts, no hangover, etc).  So…it’s not really that I CAN’T drink – it’s more that I don’t really care for it – or more likely, don’t care for the idea of a loss of control.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some drinking – as long as the drink is SWEET.  Hard-core drinkers may scoff, but… can’t help it.  Beer doesn’t appeal to me, and neither does stuff like whiskey or vodka (though I’m amenable for a taste if combined in a sweet cocktail).  Rather stuff like sweet wine (so usually red), Bailey’s, Kahlua (though that’s almost -note I say “almost”- too sweet), and… umeshu.

I think I’ve liked umeshu from the first time I tried it.  It’s a sweet plum (ume) liqueur that I especially enjoy over ice (on the rocks).  There are also various varieties including honey umeshu, green tea umeshu, brown sugar umeshu, and more, all quite delicious.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to try doing was making my own!  I’ve seen the ingredients and jars for sale every spring and always decided that whenever I had a place of my own,  I’d give it a try.  Well… I can now cross that off my to-do list!

I found a beautiful post at the Blue Lotus about making umeshu and followed that as best I could – it’s really quite simple!

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  • 1kg Rock sugar
  • 1kg Unripe, unblemished plums
  • Enough 35% “white liquor” to fill a jar (typically sold in 1.8liter cartons in Japan)

Other items you’ll need:

  • Large, fully sealable jar (typically sold in 2-4 liter sizes in Japan)
  • Toothpick(s)
  • Paper towels
  • Colandar

First thoroughly rinse off the ume and make sure there aren’t any with gashes or splits in the skin.  After rinsing them off and selecting the best ones, set them on a towel to dry off or if you’re in a hurry (as I was) use paper towels to dry off the ume thoroughly.

Also do the same for the jar, making sure that it’s very clean and dry.

Next, use the toothpick to extract any remnants of stem from the ume.  Even though some ume may already look de-stemmed, you’d be surprised at what can still be extracted!

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Again making sure that the ume are dry, start layering the ume and rock sugar in the large jar until you’ve gone through the entire batch of sugar and ume.  Finally, top the whole thing off with the white liquor, seal and store in a cool dry place.

After several hours, you can upend the jar to stir up the sugar, repeating this process every few days until the sugar has been fully dissolved.

And voila!  Now to wait for at least 3 months… 🙁

I learned one thing while making my batch, and that was to make sure next time that I really clean and de-stem the ume well!  As I look now, I see some (minor) sediment when shaking up the jar.  I don’t think this will detract too much from the final product, but it doesn’t look quite as beautiful as it could.  Trust me, a cold, crystal clear glass of umeshu is…just beautiful.

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Another thing – I also added a few squeezes of HONEY.  This is something I just “felt like doing” and I have no idea if I’ve made a terrible mistake or not (ie it might make the whole concoction rancid, or spoil somehow… I don’t know).  I guess I’ll find out in 3 months! (though I plan on keeping some for a full year to try and see what the difference in taste is like. 🙂

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  • July 10, 2009 - 09:17 | Permalink

    Well, well, well, home-made plumshine! Who knew? 😉
    35% sounds pretty strong!

  • July 10, 2009 - 16:04 | Permalink

    It sounds pretty strong, but it actually gets quite diluted when the time comes to drink it. It’s actually considered something of a “lady’s” drink I believe – but I just like it because it’s so sweet 😀

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