So what is perry? I guess that’s the place to start. Perry is a drink made from the fermented juice of the humble pear. In recent years this has been confused some what by the coining of the term ‘Pear cider’ by Brothers in the nineties. Whilst this new term introduced a whole new audience to pear based drinks, they paled in comparison to the real thing. Many of the industrially made pear ciders were more akin to an alcopop than to real perry. This rebranding had its initial success, but the pear sector of the booze trade has declined rapidly in recent years. Weston’s 2017 cider report claims that perry makes up only 3% of overall cider and perry sales. But as we see with ‘craft’ and traditional ciders becoming more popular, maybe now is the time for perry to leap from obscurity to the top shelf.
To make great perry requires the maker to really understand the fruit that is available to them and how to get the best out of it. It is certainly an art form and making perry seems to have its own unique challenges. But it is certainly worth the effort and experienced makers are producing perry that we in Britain should praise along with our ciders in the same tone as French wine and Belgian beer. I have four perries to taste in this blog, three from the home of perry in Herefordshire and for balance one from the non-traditional county of Kent.
Before we get into the tasting though, here is some quick fire perry trivia: (Everyone’s favourite pub quiz round!)
- Perry pears are unusual beasts, smaller and often more spherical than eating pears with fabulous names such as Merry legs, Butt, Flakey Bark and Dead boy!
- Traditionally, Perry hails from the three counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire where the majority of these pear varieties originate.
- Perry pears have a different chemical structure to that of cider apples. They contain varying levels of citric acid which produces citrus fruit aromas and flavours. Also the natural sugar levels also tend to be higher and include the unfermentable sugar sorbitol, which means perry will maintain a natural level of sweetness.
- Whilst it may be frowned upon in traditional regions, perry can be made from dessert and culinary pears too, as you will see in the tasting!
Right, I’m thirsty, let’s get stuck in.
First up, Panting Partridge Perry from Newton Court. A lovely bright, golden liquid. The aroma is floral with a touch of citrus, almost sherbet. Unfortunately there is a fairly obvious aroma of vinegar, something which perry seems fairly susceptible to. Luckily it is not so strong in the flavour and actually brings balance to the drink. A light and fragrant flavour initially with the slightest of bubbles that dance in the mouth. Seems obvious to say, but the pear notes really shine through in the finish with that touch of citrus. A tasty start!
Next I have Fine Perry from Tom Oliver. This is a single variety perry made exclusively from Blakeney Red pears. Very different aroma from the first with inciting sweet yet zingy pears. On the palate this is medium dry and bursting with flavour. Some really interesting tropical fruit flavours and dare I say even a touch of blue raspberry (my childhood confectionary favourite). This is much more carbonated but it brings a lovely freshness and complements the drink. Very Fine Perry indeed.
The last of the Herefordshire offerings comes from Gregg’s Pit and is their bottle condtioned Blakeney Red, Butt and Oldfield. Cracking presentation, great to see a perry served like this. An impressive pop from the cork! But the aroma is…unfortunate. Musty and eggy, I can only assume this has occurred post bottling. After some time in the glass it clears, allowing the floral and citrus aromas through. This perry is much drier with a lot more going on in the flavour. Incredibly complex with big fruity tannins. Again, really refreshing citrus notes, with the pear growing in the finish. Despite it being the driest of the three, there’s a slight sweetness that really balances the drink.
Last but not least, Nightingales Kentish Perry. There are many people who’d say this shouldn’t be called a perry as its made with dessert pears, namely Concorde, Comice and Conference pears. Not only that but it’s been blended with some Bramley apple to provide some acidity. The nose is distinctly pear. Very fruity and acidic. The flavour… wow, what a contrast. Really fresh and fruity with juicy pear flesh notes and subtly floral. There are no off notes at all and the addition of the Bramley has really lifted this drink, a bold move done well. I wanted to say it holds it’s own against the other three, but I think that’s condescending to a drink of this quality.
Well there we have it, four fabulous perries and all distinctly different. It’s a shame that the Gregg’s Pit was slightly off the mark, as they are renowned for their fine perry, but I think it just goes to show what a bugger making perry can be. As we all know, taste is subjective so I shan’t rank them for you, but interestingly when my girlfriend and I compared notes, our preferences were very different with the exception of one. Second place went to Nightingales Kentish Perry. I think it’s great to see perry being made in non traditional areas to a standard as good as that.
I hope you are feeling inspired to give perry a try. You will be amazed by what you find. See what is available locally to you and explore the incredible selection from the Three Counties. Other producers I would highly recommend trying are Hallets, Ross-on-Wye, Severn and Dunkertons.