During the rainy season it is quite common for people to toss some fruits in a large jar with white liquor and sugar and then waiting 3 months to a year for the alcohol to take on the flavors. The most popular of these is certainly umeshu, which is made with small apricots. I made two batches of that last year, along with a pineapple one as well. Both of these were wonderful successes, but this year I wanted to try for something a little more unique.
My first batch was made with strawberries and a little bit of lemon. I had been wanting to try with this fruit for some time but the cost of strawberries in Japan had been pretty prohibitive. I hit the jackpot by finding half price ones and swooped in to buy them all. You would think that 20 dollars of strawberries would get you more, but such is the cost of fruit in Japan. The lemon is also added to help balance the flavor (or so I am told). The crimson of the berries has already bled into the liquor and the sugar completely dissolved. I will wait until next spring before I declare it ready, but by sampling it along the way can assure that the any necessary adjustments can be made.
My second attempt at greatness was with vanilla beans. When I saw these for sale in an Indian spice market, using them to make this beverage was the first thought that crossed my mind. I had no idea how it would turn out though. The flavor of vanilla beans is indeed distinct, but also rather subdued. I didn’t know if the flavors would be strong enough to override the the otherwise harsh taste of the white liquor so I took advantage my smallest container. I knew that in all likelihood it would turn out tasting like garbage and didn’t want to invest a lot of money into the materials. The brown of the beans took no time bleeding into the liquid, but I’m quite skeptical that it will translate into a palatable flavor.
This craft is a challenge to perfect and because of the fun in experimenting with procedures and ingredients, it can be enjoyed on both ends.