Behind the Scenes, BOOZE, Ronin, Sunday's Grocery, Yardbird • Jun 21, 2016
The word ‘umeshu’ is made up of 2 parts – ‘ume’ (a Japanese fruit) and ‘shu’ (a Japanese suffix for alcohol). And while many people refer to umeshu as plum wine, this is actually incorrect. Ume fruit comes from a unique tree species called Prunus Mume and is more similar to an apricot than a plum. Umeshu is commonly made by combining slightly unripe ume with sugar and shochu and left to infuse for a period of time.
Ume fruit is full of natural acids, so the flavour of umeshu has a nice balance of acidity and sweetness (sweetness comes from the added sugar). The combination of these ingredients with shochu creates strong umami flavors, which is the real reason why people both in and outside of Japan are drawn to umeshu. Because if its full and somewhat syrupy body, umeshu is often served on the rocks, with soda, or used as a cocktail base. Umeshu varies in strength but is typically around 12% alcohol.
At Yardbird, our umeshu is made in-house and aged for at least one year. The recipe we use is a twist on a traditional umeshu recipe to create a final product that is slightly less sweet. The ume fruit is sent to us from Wakayama at the beginning of the short summer season and when we receive it, the ume is thoroughly washed, its tiny stems are removed, and holes are poked into the fruit to help the infusion process. When the ume is ready, it’s added to a glass jar with Japanese rock sugar, which dissolves slowly during the room temperature infusion process, and topped up with shochu. We use Kuma shochu, a controlled appellation for rice shochu in Kumamoto, that’s renowned for its clean taste. It’s important to use a clean, silent shochu so as not to mask the pure aromatics and flavors of the ume.