Umeshu – The Wonderful Japanese Plumwine

Umeshu is the Japanese plumwine with more than 1000 years of history. It is made of ume-fruit, a base alcohol and sugar.

The alcohol typically is around 12%-14%, which is comparable to western wine. There are two large industrial makers of Umeshu as well as more than 300 private labels with a large variety of different Umeshu. In Japan it also is very popular to make Umeshu at home and many supermarkets offer ready-made kits around May and June during ume-apricot harvesting.

Umeshu is usually made based on one of these four alcohols:

1) Umeshu based on Sake (rice-wine)

Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink made by brewing rice with water. Depending on the mash used for fermentation sake can be sour, dry or very flowery. It is very popular to make Umeshu based on sake. The sake base can therefore already determine the character of the Umeshu.

2) Umeshu based on Shochu

Shochu is a Japanese alcoholic drink made through distillation. It is made of rice, sweet potato, wheat and occasionally with other ingredients such as sweet chestnut. Whereas most rice shochu are neutral in their fragrance, those made of sweet potato or wheat have a very distinct taste. When Umeshu is made with one of the later it creates an entirely new flavor on ume-apricot and the shochu.

3) Umeshu based on brandy

Many sweet and heavy Umeshu include a little shot of Brandy for the flavor. They nevertheless usually do not exceed 14% alcohol, which is comparable to a heavy red wine.

4) Umeshu based on white liqueur

White liqueur is industrial alcohol with neutral flavor. It is most commonly used to make Umeshu at home. A lot of breweries also use it for Umeshu focussing on the flavor of ume-apricot only as well as for Umeshu with additional flavors such as shiso-mint, green tea or Japanese yuzu-lime.

The second most important ingredient is ume-apricot. There are various types of ume-apricot and it is said the the Shirakaga Ume is best to produce Umeshu due its large size and its ability to easily transfer flavor to the base alcohol.

Because the ume-apricot has a lot of acidity Umeshu gets sweetened. When the ume-apricot is put into alcohol rock-sugar is added. Sometime honey or brown sugar are added too or even entirely replace white sugar.

It recently became popular to add other flavors to Umeshu since the flavor of the ume-apricot also combines well with other ingredients. So far, Umeshu with ginger, shiso-mint, yuzu-lime, passion fruit, banana, green tea and black tea have been found among many others.

It this these many combinations that result a very large variety of different flavors that make Umeshu such a popular and fascinating drink.