Words by Simon Difford
Umeshu is a traditional Japanese liqueur made by infusing unripened Japanese ume fruit in alcohol with added sugar (and or honey). 'Ume' means fruit, while "Shu" is the Japanese word for liquor. Umeshu are typically 10–15% alc./vol.
Umeshu can be made using fruit flavour rather than fresh fruit so you should look for Honkaku Umeshu which are made from ume fruit and sugar without added flavour additives. Some umeshu are sold with a whole ume 'plum' inside the bottle.
Although umeshu is often termed a "plum wine" in English, it is not a fruit wine at all as the fruit is not fermented but merely imparts its flavour through infusion on alcohol.
Although ume fruits are commonly called plums they are not plums but are actually a small variety of apricot.
Ume (Prunus Mume) were brought to Japan from China over 1,000 years ago. Prized for their beautiful early spring pink blossoms, they are grown in the warm Lishu area of Japan.
The Japanese character or 'kanji' for ume also represents health and like so many traditional liqueurs, umeshu were first consumed as a medicine.
The base alcohol used to make umeshu in Japan is traditionally sake, shochu, or awamori but other alcohols such as whiskey are also used.