Umeshu: The Japanese Plum Wine
Umeshu is a perfect balance between the tang of ume and the fragrance of alcohol. It is easy to drink, with a tempting dose of tartness and sweetness. Its attractive taste and acidity make it a good pair with any meal. It can be enjoyed on its own or used as a cocktail base.
What is Umeshu
Umeshu refers to plum wine, a simple Japanese beverage made from ume, sugar, and alcohol. It is smooth and fresh, blending the sour and sweet flavors of the plums and the sugar. The ume, one of its main ingredients, is the fruit of the plum tree. Although commonly called as “plum“ in English, the Japanese term "ume" is more closely related to the apricot. Ume has a higher acid content than prunes and is more sour than its Western counterparts, so it is usually pickled or preserved.
Although umeshu is commonly referred to as “plum wine,” it is not really wine. The difference between wine and other types of alcoholic beverages (such as liqueurs and beers) is that wine requires fermentation to achieve a special flavor. However, in making umeshu, the ume is not fermented. Instead, it is a mixture of ume, sugar, and wine. Technically, it's closer to a liqueur. Umeshu is usually aged for six months to a year before being enjoyed.
How to Drink Umeshu
1. Umeshu Rokku
Umeshu Rokku (Umeshu on the rocks) is one of the easiest (and, perhaps surprisingly, classiest) ways to enjoy umeshu. Simply pour the umeshu into a glass filled with ice until it covers the ice. The melting ice will dilute the beverage slightly, allowing you to better appreciate the sweet-sour combo of umeshu.
2. Umeshu MizuWari
Mizu means water, and waru means mixing alcohol with something else. As its name suggests, umeshu mizu wari is a method of mixing umeshu with water. The water dilutes the strong umeshu, making it an ideal drink for those who do not like alcohol.
3. UmeshuTansan Wari
Umeshu Tansan Wari is a drinking method similar to Umeshu Mizu Wari, only replacing the water with soda. Soda can improve the taste of umeshu. It tastes fresh and sweet and is a perfect drink for the hot summer.
4. UmeshuOyu Wari
Oyuwari is another drinking method similar to Umeshu Mizu Wari, in which umeshu is mixed with hot water. The hot water intensifies the fragrance of plums. It is an ideal drink for winter.
5. Pure Umeshu.
It's always the best and purest way to enjoy umeshu straight. It tastes better when refrigerated.
In addition to these classic ways, there are some innovative ways to enjoy umeshu. You can freeze the drink in small cubes and let it melt in your mouth, or mix it with other drinks or ice. You can also add fruit to Umeshu Tansan Wari, or mix the umeshu with black tea.
Types of Umeshu
Nigori means cloudy, and Nigori umeshu refers to an unfiltered and pulpy alcoholic beverage. The ume is full of flavor after months of steeping in the liqueur.
In order to maintain a consistent alcohol content, commercial umeshu makers will dilute stronger batches of umeshu with water. A "genshu" umeshu is the undiluted umeshu as it came out of the brewing process. This type of umeshu is popular for drinking with ice.
Sparkling Umeshu is a light drink with a delightfully fruity taste. The mild sourness of the carbonation blends well with the delicate sweetness of the umeshu.
Typically, umeshu only takes a few months to mature. Koshu umeshu refers to mature umeshu that has been aged in oak barrels for six months to a year for a spicier flavor.
Kokuto Umeshu refers to the umeshu made with brown sugar rather than white sugar during the brewing process. It's sweeter and has a stronger fragrance than the regular type.