Why you should care
Are you up for a splash of something old that’s also something new?
Do not confuse perry with pear cider. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Or, better: like comparing fermented apples to fermented pears. Perry is a fine, champagne-like alcohol that’s little known outside of Europe where it’s a centuries-old tradition. Unlike pear cider, which is made from apples with a dash of pear juice, true perry is made up entirely of perry pears — not the kind of pear you’d enjoy finding in a fruit bowl, but the kind that, with the right care and coaxing, makes a light, fragrant liquor. And with specialty bars and producers catching on in the U.S., it’s time to prep your taste buds.
“Good perry,” say British authors Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw, “tastes like drinking angels’ tears.” Bad perry, they warn in their 2013 book, World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition and Terroir, is like “cow pie covered in nail-polish remover.” Scary perry. Ye-olde regions that produce perry are Herefordshire in England; Domfrontais in Normandy, France; and Mostvierte in Austria.
But you’ll have to fly and buy. Production is small and, so far, American demand is nonexistent. Jonny Raglin of San Francisco’s Comstock Saloon once carried a Normandy perry. “The staff loved it … Fine-wine people drank it.” But no one asks for perry. Julie Tall, owner of Capitol Cider in Seattle, agrees: “People come in to explore cider, and perry is something we introduce them to.”
But more strictly-cider bars are popping up in the U.S., and, according to Sherrye Wyatt, director of the Northwest Cider Association, of their 50 cidermaker members, one-third now carry perry. That’s up from a handful three years ago. It makes sense, since Washington and Oregon account for 75 percent of the pear production in the nation. Seattle’s Capitol Cider gastropub stocks about a dozen perry bottles (two on tap) ranging from $15 to $30 a bottle, including Bull Run Cider’s cranberry perry, and a quince and pear querry, by quirky California winemaker Bonny Doon, which describes its concoction as a “Getrunkenexperiment.”
From a grower’s perspective, perry pears are obnoxious, with a tendency to rot from the inside out. Then there’s a substantial wait for the fruit: 20 years, compared to five for an apple, notes Galen Williams of Oregon’s Bull Run. Williams predicts that U.S. makers will remedy the scarcity of perry pears with a New-World style that blends them with common culinary varieties like Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc.
As the U.S. cider market matures, makers are bound to geek out on perry. “Perry can rival a good champagne,” says Williams. “It’s more delicate than cider.” The hurdle is price. No one would expect a pinot noir to be made with concord table grapes, Williams states. The same is true of perry. Not any pear will do.