Plum sake is something very unique among Japanese alcoholic drinks. Its sweet and mild flavor is well-loved by people across generations. It is treasured even by those who dislike alcohol.
Knowing plum sake will diversify the ways you enjoy Japanese alcoholic drinks.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
1. Plum sake is not (always) made from sake
Before we begin, let’s clear up a common misunderstanding about plum sake.
Plum sake, or plum wine, literally translates to ‘umeshu’ in Japanese. Here, ‘ume’ means plum and ‘shu’ is liquor. Liquor can be anything. In fact, plum sake is made by steeping plums in any of the following alcohol bases— sake, shochu (distilled spirits), brandy, white liquor, and others.
Moreover, umeshu is more commonly made with shochu, not sake. The name “plum sake” is actually a misnomer because it’s not necessarily made with sake.
If you plan to buy plum ‘sake’ and see umeshu on the label, check its base alcohol first.
2. What is the taste of Plum Sake?
Plum sake is sweet, sour, fruity, and juice-like. If you normally dislike the taste of alcohol, this is a must-try. Its smooth and quick tart taste pairs perfectly with teriyaki or grilled fish. It won’t leave a harsh aftertaste and it won’t burn your throat (only 10-15% alcohol by volume).
3. Three typical ways of enjoying
Plum sake is best enjoyed on the rocks. Some employ its sweetness as an aperitif or as dessert wine.
Mix one part plum sake with two parts club soda to create a fruity and acidic cocktail. It can be enjoyed all year-round, but it especially good in summer.
With hot water
In winter, add one part plum sake to two parts hot water to warm your body. Drinking it before bedtime will give you a pleasant sleep.
4. Which ones to try?
Plum sake also differs brand by brand just as each sake tastes differently. Choosing the best plum sake will boil down to personal preferences.
Having said this, here are some of our recommendations:
a. Daishichi Umeshu
Photo Credit: https://secure.daishichi.com/
Named the “Most Elegant Plum Sake” by the 2011 Golden Masu Awards, this drink is considered a masterpiece. As smooth as velvet, this umeshu’s subtle and refined plum taste will leave you wanting for more.
b. Nagare Ume Sukkiri
Photo Credit: http://allabout-japan.com/
This classic sake-based umeshu is not too sweet nor too sour. It gives a rich and intensely fruity plum flavor with a long aftertaste. It is best served on the rocks.
c. Koshigoi Umeshu
Photo Credit: http://yoshino-shuzou.shop-pro.jp
Produced by an old-fashioned sake brewery, this umeshu is made with Junmai Daiginjo– the highest quality sake. With its fragrance-free and additive-free qualities, you can enjoy its natural sweetness just by itself. This umeshu is a limited edition variant and is made in limited quantities only.
5. How to make it at Home
If you want to have plum sake available to you at any time, you might want to make it at home. It’s actually very simple and is a very common practice in Japan.
You will need:
- 2.2lb (1 kg) Japanese Plums (green ume)
- 1.1 – 2.2lb (0.5-1 kg) rock sugar
- 0.48gal (1.8 L) undiluted sake (> 35% alcohol, shochu or white liquor is preferred)
- Bamboo skewers or toothpick
- 4L glass container
- Sanitize the glass container by filling it with boiling water.
- Select big, green Japanese plums.
- Wash the plums gently with water.
- Drain the plums using a colander.
- Dry plums in cool, shaded place for 2-4 hours. Make sure there are no water drops remaining on surface.
- Using a bamboo skewer, remove the remaining stem from the plums.
- In the glass bottle, gently lay the fruits down and make a layer on the bottom. Cover with a layer of rock sugar.
- Repeat until all fruits and sugar have been added.
- Add the sake and make sure that it completely covers the plums.
- Seal the container and keep for one year, or at least 3 months in a relatively cool, dark place. You may opt to keep stiring once a day until the rock sugar melt away. Not doing anything is also fine. Through the following year, the flavor will gradually move out of the fruit and into the alcohol.
– Small, young, unripe plums will not bring a good taste.
– Don’t use bruised fruits since they can make the sake muddy
If you find that some fruits have changed color, remove them. This is a sign of staleness.
Photo Credit: http://www.ume-nouka.jp/
Watch the video here.
If you would like to age your plum sake, it may be better to remove the fruits after a year as the alcohol will start eating on the bitterness of the core.
If you want to liven-up your sake experience or are looking for a first drink to try, plum sake is something we personally recommend. Not only will its sweet and fruity flavor captivate you, it is also incredibly easy to make at home.