Perry! Yes, we love it here on cider review. And we have strong feelings that the name should pitch its tent over drinks made from any sort of pears, as you can read here.
The best perries, so the myth goes, are made “within sight of May Hill”, a mohawked pimple sticking out of Gloucestershire. And certainly the history of perry in the Three Counties is long and illustrious.
With that said, whilst I’ve tasted any number of magnificent perries from Gloucestershire and, particularly, Herefordshire, I’m not a believer in their monopoly over the quality of fermented pear. I’m on record as listing my perry ne plus ultra as having been grown and made in Somerset, and creations from such places as Wales, Devon and, recently, Nottinghamshire, have all found happy homes in my tasting glass. Not to mention those from Normandy’s Domfront, Austria’s Mostviertel and Germany, none of whom can possibly see May Hill without the assistance of Google Maps.
So today I’m trying a trio of British perries from outside the Three Counties to see whether they’ve overcome their regretful lack of a May Hill vista.
First up is Bollhayes. We’ve covered them on CR before, investigating their 2003 and 2017 back in the early days of my cider scribbling, and the 2013 as part of our sparkling cider musings with Rachel last Saturday. I’ve never tried a Bollhayes perry before though, so was tremendously curious when it appeared on Scrattings. Like the ciders we’ve reviewed previously, it’s made in the traditional method*, though unlike its stablemates it doesn’t carry a vintage. (Its maker, Alex Hill, tells me it will be either 2016 or 2017). A 750ml bottle set me back a very reasonable £11.
Bollhayes Perry Traditional Method Brut Nature – review
Colour: Clear Gold
On the nose: Ooh. That is an ace perry nose. The richness of honey, the plumpness of pear and mandarin fruits, a little exotic spice, a dab of clove and wood and just a flutter of petrichor. It’s generous, it’s complex, it’s poised, it’s elegant. Beautiful.
In the mouth: The fireworks continue. As dry as perry gets, but the tannins have softened nicely, there’s nothing aggressive here, and no clash with the frothy mousse at all. Bright, rounded fruit with a nice nibble of acidity, loads of slateyness and some delicate florals on top. Beautiful, balanced, complex complete.
In a nutshell: Buy it instantly. In multiples if you can.
Next up I have a pair (pun inevitable, but intended nonetheless) of perries from Skyborry. They’re a border-straddling operation, whose cidery (I believe) is just inside Wales but who pick their fruit from across the Wye Valley, particularly from just inside Herefordshire. Possibly the other way round. Crucially to this article though, not from somewhere that can see May Hill. Or so I hope.
Both are labelled as Ultralight Beam (the second being – wouldn’t you know it? – Ultralight Beam 2.) Both are the same strength, both are from the 2019 vintage and both have been bottled pet nat. Both are also blends of Berllanderi Red and Berllanderi Green (‘berllanderi’ apparently being Welsh for ‘orchard’). In the case of Ultralight Beam 1, they were blended with Gin and Winnals Longdon, whilst Ultralight Beam 2 blended the two Berllanderis and fermented the juice with ‘a big bag of milled quince inside it’. Very much a new one on me.
For a long time the magnificent Wright’s Wines has been my sole source of Skyborry, and you can indeed find Ultralight Beam gracing their webpages here. But the age of the specialist online cider retailer now being well and truly upon us, it is also available from Scrattings and The Cat in the Glass. What a time to be alive. Bottles generally sit around the £14 mark.
At the time of writing the only place I can find Ultralight Beam 2 online is the Hereford Beer House, which also handily lists the four varieties in its makeup as Berllanderi Red, Berllanderi Green, Gin and Winnals Longdon. That one will cost you £11.50.
Skyborry Ultralight Beam 2019 – review
Colour: Pale pearlescent gold
On the nose: One of those wonderful, ripe almost sweet jellied fruit perry noses. Green and yellow jelly beans. Apple sweets. A touch of redcurrant. There’s just the slightest savoury touch – perhaps hay – in the background, which is all to the good as it balances the sweeter aromas wonderfully.
In the mouth: Round, ripe, juicy, medium-bodied fare. A good nibble of clean, upfront acidity and a decent but not excessive mousse skewers the fleshy fruit and gives lift to the sweetness. This is summer in a glass – a fruit punch of ripe cantaloupe, pineapple, soft pear and not-quite-apricot-but-getting-there.
In a nutshell: Rounded, friendly and oh-so drinkable. Gorgeous perry.
Skyborry Ultralight Beam 2019 2 – review
Colour: Similar. A touch more haze and fizz
On the nose: Not as rounded or opulent in its fruit as No.1. This has higher, greener tones – cut grass, tomato stem, elderflower. It is also more mineral, in an earthy, wet-rock sense, which some might describe as “lightly funky”, but which you wouldn’t, being a handsome and wise Cider Review reader and thus above such things.
In the mouth: Samesies. Loads of green. Lime zest, grass clippings, gooseberries, white grapefruit and hawthorn. Pea pod. Leaner than No.1, but as it warms slightly it takes on a leesy richness, the light earthiness re-emerges. A little peach pit and seashell.
In a nutshell: A very different style to No.1, but also delicious. A cert with seafood.
This lineup was an absolutely delight. Each creation here is easily worthy of an Ridiculously Good Perry Monday (should have published this yesterday, really, shouldn’t I?) – imagine how good they’d have been had their fruit grown in sight of May Hill.
I think, if I could only have one, it’d be the Bollhayes. Just. It’s an absolutely superb expression of pears, time and the traditional method. At £11.50 it’s a thief’s bargain – I demand you include at least one bottle next time you are ordering ciders and perries.
The Skyborrys are also delicious though and offer wonderful contrasts to each other. Number 1, as I’ve said, is pure summer – positively beaming in the generosity of its fruit. Number 2, on the other hand, is the start of Spring – a cliff-edge walk in early March amidst sea spray and the first green shoots of the new year. It’s one for lovers of unoaked French and Italian whites, particularly Muscadet and Chablis. I’m not sure I’d have pegged this as having quince, had I not known. The macerating bag of milled quince has had a markedly different effect than blending and fermenting quince juice would have done. As, I suppose, is to be expected.
Number 1 might be my slight pick, but either will add a sparkle to your day. Allow Number 2 half an hour out of the fridge before you open it, to allow the richness of its lees to unfurl.
*If any terms are unfamiliar, do spool through our taxonomy of cider, here, which hopefully offers translation and explanation.