Monday, August 22, 2011

Infusion #5: Umeshu, Part I

A small project I’ve been meaning to tackle for years now is the ability to make one’s own plum wine at home… more specifically, umeshu. Technically, umeshu isn’t a wine at all (though it’s called so), but in fact a liqueur.

Umeshu might be the simplest infusion yet done on this site, though its simplicity in preparation demands patience for the infusing. Umeshu is created by soaking whole green plums in soju.

Green plums aren't just unripe plums (though they can be). Because this is an east Asian recipe, what can be assumed required is one of several varieties of Korean plum, most of which ripen to a light green color. Their taste is sweet, though perhaps not as sweet as some of the darker species that you can find. I myself don't have direct access to unripe Asian plums, but what I did find recently in my local store was less-than-ripe green pluots. I know that they're not nearly the same as for what traditional umeshu calls, but I'm going for it.

Soju is a Korean spirit that you'll find more and more nowadays, if you make an effort. It's a mid-proof mostly neutral spirit that is traditionally made from rice, though modern versions can be made from grain and sweet potatoes as well. Most soju also has just a bit of sugar added at the end of production, so the result is a slightly sweet liquor that is about 40 proof (on average) and very subtle in flavor. By the way, soju is not to be confused (which it commonly is), with shochu or baijiu, their Japanese and Chinese counterparts which tend to be more commonly made from rice only and are also higher proof.

The method of infusion couldn't be simpler: wash the fruits and soak them whole in soju for at least a few months. This method concerns me a bit. From my limited experience with infusing whole fruits in liquor, I find that the flesh of the fruits, shielded from the alcohol directly by their in-tact skin, tend to decompose a bit from the inside out. Similar experiments of mine have resulted in ammoniated aromas from the mixtures. But every description I've read of umeshu insists that it's smooth and inviting, so perhaps my fears are unfounded.

I'm making a small batch divided into two jars. Traditional recipes have you include sugar to soak in the liquor with the plums, but I'll just add simple syrup to the final infused product, as I often do.

If any of you know why this experiment will fail or what I'm doing wrong, feel free to tell me. See you in a few months!

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