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Six perries from continental Europe

I don’t know about you, but I’ve still yet to go abroad since the before times. Partially that’s down to busyness – work’s been particularly nose-to-the-grindstone for the last few months, I’m somehow rehearsing my third play of the year, we’re at the thick end of planning a wedding, and the writing I do for this site takes up a few minutes too, as you’d expect.

But it’s also, admittedly, in part due to personal anxieties. I’m not even back to drinking inside pubs yet; the idea of airports and planes gives me all sorts of conniptions. I dare say once I’d arrived at wherever I was going I’d be a lot better off, and feel a lot safer than I do going about day to day stuff here in the UK, but anxieties is anxieties and for the time being all my travel is done by bottle.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of perry crossing borders; of increased awareness of the traditional heartlands beyond those we know here in the UK and of the burgeoning scenes in countries where perry wasn’t perhaps made at the same scale. Of course it’s hard to do that without any sort of roadmap, so to those interested in perry and who would like to learn more about these cultures I’d warmly recommend buying the excellent books of pioneers who have gone out and found them. World’s Best Ciders by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw is, as I’ve said several times, my all-time favourite cider book, and I’m thrilled to hear rumblings of a second edition. Its chapter on Austria’s Mostviertel particularly captured me, and I was desperate to try that region’s perries from the moment I read it. Susanna Forbes’ The Cider Insider is also required reading for the internationally curious, as is Gabe Cook’s Ciderology, which is particularly good on America.

Alas, there isn’t (yet) a book dedicated entirely to searching out the perries of the world. You can pick out choice titbits from all of the above and paint a rough picture of the scene, but important gaps remain to be filled and those choice titbits deserve significant expansion. Learning about perry made in your own home country is hard enough; delving into perry cultures across the sea is, in my experience, some of the hardest-won knowledge in the world of drinks.

So today, rather than attempting any huge preamble, I’m going to schlepp metaphorically across the channel and take my glass on a bit of a perry Eurotrip. I’ve six perries from four countries lined up, all made with different pears and methods and mindsets. Half of them are available to buy on these shores an the other half (at the time of writing) should be purchasable by those of our readership who have been wise enough not to vote themselves out of the EU.

We begin our trip in France’s Normandy, unquestionably one of the world’s great perry regions, with an intriguing meeting of international minds in the form of Templar’s Choice, who we previously met in my collaborative article with Rachel Hendry on sparkling cider. Adam and Anne Bland (who has a particular feature in World’s Best Ciders) were originally from Gloucestershire, but moved across to Normandy’s Pays d’Auge in 1991 and have made cider and perry (and Calvados and Pommeau and all sorts besides) there ever since. Originally their brand was named after them, but deciding that Bland Cider gave out connotations, they rebranded as Templar’s Choice, their ancient farmhouse having originally been the property of the Knights Templar.

The pears for this perry grew in their 45 acre, south-facing orchards, though varieties aren’t mentioned as I imagine it’s a blend of several. Since they’re in the Pays d’Auge they don’t necessarily need the 60% minimum Plant de Blanc in the blend that a Domfront AOP bottling would require (more on that here). So although this is made in the classic French keeved manner and, like most of its contemporaries, is therefore naturally sparkling, I’ve no specific points as to exactly what it’ll taste like.

750ml bottles are available for £7 directly from the Templar’s Choice site and Scrattings, or are £8.50 from Cider is Wine.

Templar’s Choice Perry Naturally Sparkling – review

How I served: Chilled, then left out of the fridge half an hour.

Appearance: Pale gold. Big mousse.

On the nose: Needs a few moments for the fumes of that lively carbonation to blow off. When they do, a hit of apple and pear fruit with light dabs of caramel and honey is yielded alongside a floral chamomile, pear skins and a lightly earthy minerality. It’s not a massive nose, but it’s characterful and precise.

In the mouth: Pow! Perry! Performs that trick that is unique to this drink of lulling you into a sense of delicacy and fragility with its nose and then drawing a broadsword of tannin and acidity and, in this instance, big fizz to set off a textural riot. Luckily flavours are commensurately big, to match and balance. Drier than the French norm – just a smidge off-dry – with white grapefruit, pear, green apple, hawthorn and a little honeydew melon. No idea on the varieties, but I feel this is another perry that would appeal to fans of such pears as Thorn and Moorcroft. N.B. I later discovered that it paired surprisingly brilliantly with roast beef, roast potatoes and a side salad.

In a nutshell: A textural, flavourful rollercoaster behind a sweetness-and-light, butter-wouldn’t-melt nose. Very refreshing too. I like this loads. Great value as well.

We’ve covered a good few German perries on this site now – three more yesterday – from Kertelreiter, 1785 and Jörg Geiger. And looking back, their track record is splendid. I’ve liked every single one so far, loved a few, and put one (Jörg Geiger’s superlative CBB 22, a traditional method single variety Champagne Bratbirne) in my Essential Case at the end of last year. By all accounts – by which I mean “by my sporadic chats with Kertelreiter’s Barry and 1785’s Patrick” – there isn’t actually all that much perry in Germany, and what there is is rather dotted around. So I’m excited to have a couple more to cover today.

Gutshof Kraatz is a new producer to Cider Review, but a well-established one to Germany. I’ve read a fair bit about this cidery’s products, as they’ve been extensively covered by the excellent Cider Explorer site run by Germany’s Natalia, who seems to be a great fan of theirs. (Always a positive sign when another cider writer is effusive in their praises!) Natalia has documented her visit to the cidery here and thereby offers far more detailed information than I’d be able to glean from any google-centric detective work. The brief précis is that Florian and his wife Edda bought a holiday home in Uckermark, complete with a small orchard of apples and pears. As is so often the case, curiosity got the better of them, and pies and jam led to cider, led to explorations of other old local orchards, led to more cider, led to perries and quinces and beyond.

Today Gutshof Kraatz’s range covers a huge number of ciders perries and other fruity things. Just feast your eyes on their web shop selection here! The bottle I’ll be digging into is their Alte Mostbirnen Birnenschaumwein 2018, which, if you know your German, rather does what it says on the tin: sparkling pear wine from old pears. Again, I suspect a blend – the website doesn’t specify varieties, but is admirably detailed in its other respects. This has been made in the traditional method, spent 20 months on its lees before disgorgement and contains 6 grams per litre of residual sugar, which incidentally is half of the amount that champagne allows in their own Brut wines.

Bottles cost €15.90 if you’re lucky enough to be able to access them. I bought mine from a CiderWorld sale last November that James tipped me of about.

Gutshof Kraatz Alte Mostbirnen Birnenschaumwein 2018 – review

How I served: As above.

Appearance: Deeper mid-gold. Big mousse.

On the nose: Again, deeper than the Templar’s Choice. Spiced pear, peaches – maybe poached peach – and a little sugary brioche. A brush of red fruit – raspberries, and the creaminess of raspberry yoghurt too. Some enrichening dough from the lees. Manages to be both delicate and elegant but at the same time possess a richness and depth.

In the mouth: Big-bodied, with lots of mousse, but they’re fine, fine bubbles lending a real creaminess. Some tannins in amongst it all, but they’re very velvety. Again the flavours take on a ripe peaches and mixed summer berry direction, still with that creaminess. A touch of caramelisation and a thread of smoke from the lees. This is rich fare for traditional method perry. Which is important, because at 9% abv it needs all that flavour and body to balance the alcohol. But good equilibrium is found.

In a nutshell: A big, decadent traditional method perry. Would be great with roasted poultry, I’d say.

Pomolo are another German cidery producing various drinks from a wide array of fruits, including apples, pears, berries, medlars, quinces, cherries and currants. Their website describes themselves as producing “original ciders and sparkling Seccos”. I do wonder slightly whether they’re sailing a bit close to the wind in their naming of the latter, but presumably they’ve not yet received a sternly-worded Italian letter, and in any case they’re hardly the only one to take advantage of that knee-jerk ‘Secco’ suffix.

As I’ve written once or twice this month, certain perries do flirt with the same spokes of the flavour wheel as Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, so perhaps a Birnen-Secco (as this one is called) is a natural fit. I’m particularly intrigued to try it, as the bottle I’m pouring is not only a Gold medal winner from Cider World 2020 but, even more interesting to me, is a single variety perry made from Gellert’s Butterbirne, which isn’t a pear I’ve previously (to my knowledge) crossed paths with. A swift glance at Joan Morgan’s inestimable Book of Pears tells me it’s a French culinary pear variety originally named Beurré Hardy. we’re not expecting much by way of tannin, which again ties it in nicely to the style which presumably the producer is aiming for.

One last point before I dive in. The stated abv of this perry is a whopping 10%, higher even than the Gutshof Kraatz, which had its alcohol abetted by the traditional method’s secondary fermentation. Since that method hasn’t been deployed here, a strength that high would argue incredible ripeness in a full-juice product. It isn’t impossible – as we learned from our conversation with Albert Johnson last year, the original blend for Raison d’Être 2018 hit that strength, and had to be reblended to hit the UK’s maximum strength for cider of 8.4%. But what little information I can glean about Gellert’s Butterbirne – early harvesting, “usually sweet and fragrant, but can be watery and weak” (Morgan) suggests that it would be unlikely to produce sufficient sugar in and of itself to produce a 10% perry. I’ve noticed a few similarly eye-catching strengths in German ciders and perries, and although my knowledge of the country’s cider and perry scene isn’t strong enough that I’d want to leap to hasty conclusions, I do wonder whether an element of chaptalisation – perhaps to create a product at a comparative strength to wine? – is common practice. If anyone more versed in Germany’s producers than me could offer more concrete information in the comments section below, or by getting in touch, I’d be very grateful.

Anyway – enough conjecture. 750ml of this Pomolo costs €7 from their website. Mine, again, was a CiderWorld sale buy. On we crack.

Pomolo Birnen-Secco Gellert’s Butterbirne – review

How I served: Medium-chilled.

Appearance: Pinot Grigio Spritz.

On the nose: For 10% abv there’s not much on the nose here. Very delicate. Slightly on the confected side – icing sugar, love hearts. Soft yellow pear but also pear travel sweets. (Memories of being about 9 at my grandmother’s rush back there). A little grassiness too. Simple but fresh.

In the mouth: Again, not huge intensity of flavour, but it’s crisp, clean and fresh. Flavours tend in a floral, pear-and-white-grape direction which with that spritz of fizz could pass for a Frizzante Prosecco. But the alcohol feels like it’s slightly dominant compared to the structure, body and flavour. A little confected again, too. Off-dry.

In a nutshell: Some nice, crisp, fruity things going on, but overall it feels a little out of balance and confected for my personal taste.

Continuing our journey east we find ourselves in Ukraine – specifically at Berryland, whose ciders and cider-wine co-fermentation gave me a lot of delicious drinking last month. As we discovered in that article, Vitalii Krvayha creates a bewildering array of natural drinks, particularly ciders, meads and hybrids thereof. But the two perries I’ll be investigating today are pear-only, and came across to the UK in the same Cider is Wine shipment as the drinks I reviewed in August. Like those drinks, these perries are made from hand-picked fruit harvested from old trees and fermented with wild yeasts and without additional sulphites. Both the Perry Brut and the Wild Perry cost £11.50 from Cider is Wine. It’s worth noting that the website suggests the Brut is from 2019, however the bottle I bought from them appears to be a 2020. Whether it’s just a website typo, or whether they’ve brought an additional vintage in, I couldn’t tell you. But mentioned here in the usual name of caveat emptor.

Berryland Perry Brut 2020 – review

How I served: Chilled

Appearance: Hazy gold

On the nose: Here’s something wild. Nosed this and it reminded me (slightly) of the beer co-ferment from Oliver’s that I tasted at the start of the month and also (even slightly-er) of Fino Sherry. There’s an almost acetaldehyde character of almonds and green apple, plus some estery peardrop and a character that both Caroline and I separately thought reminded us of some of the graininess of lager. And some leesy dough, for fun. Oh – and big fresh pear underneath it all. A very unusual nose.

In the mouth: Palate follows in that zany direction, though is juicier than expected. Ripe pear, then that Fino-esque almond thread, a little more peardrop (a touch of ethyl acetate?) and that very unusual lagery finish. Need a beer bod to taste this and tell me I’m losing the plot, really. It definitely isn’t a purist’s perry, but there’ll be some folk who’ll adore its outrageous, wild uniqueness. Martin Goodwyn-Sharman – if you’re reading this – right up your street, I’d wager. Caroline loved it too.

In a nutshell: Not quite for me, though I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘faulty’ per se. An off-piste perry that might tick many boxes for some wild-fermented beer and natural wine lovers.

Berryland Wild Perry 2020 – review

How I served: Chilled.

Appearance: The same, but still.

On the nose: One of those rare perry noses that almost entirely smells of … well … pears. Very fresh, ripe pears and also tinned pears in juice. And maybe, maybe, a tiny bit of citrus. But mainly those pears. It’s a big, clean, clear, bright aroma and it wants you to know that pearz woz ‘ere.

In the mouth: Again a very fresh, clear delivery. Very zesty acidity but not much tannin. And again the flavours are all about those pears. They seem to come in different waves – crunchy green to softer yellow, but always pear-centric, brightened up by lime juice and gooseberry. It’s remarkable that something which ostensibly tastes predominantly of just one variety of fruit can be layered and complex, but there it is.

In a nutshell: A zesty dry perry that wears its ingredient proudly on its sleeve. Tasty stuff.

Almost there now, but we can’t do a Euro perry trip without popping into Austria. And now (I’m in a play about Monty Python this week) for something completely different: an ice perry. We must have covered a dozen or so ice ciders on this site by now, and I’ve tasted many more outside the line of bloggery, but I’ve neither reviewed nor tried an ice perry since the second piece I wrote, when Once Upon a Tree’s The Wonder featured in my initial Essential Case.

Ice perry is made the same way as ice cider – or rather, can theoretically be made in one of the same three ways as ice cider. For more details, see our taxonomy, which breaks down the differing processes. The information online suggests that in this instance the pear juice was pressed and then frozen by natural cold in winter – the same method deployed by Eden and Brännland for their ice ciders.

Pyrus Glacialis comes from Genuss-Bauernhoff Distelberger, run by Toni Distelberger and Christine Pfligl. Toni is a member of the Mostbarone, a group of Austria’s best perrymakers, who originally banded together in the 1990s to join forces in protecting their pear trees, drinks and traditions. But tradition certainly doesn’t seem to have been a shackle for Toni, whose extensive range has been described to me as one of Austria’s most innovative and boasts, in addition to this ice perry, a wide variety of single varieties and blends, one o which I tasted when James and I did our international spotlight series of Instagram Conversations back in January.

I’ve had – and loved – a good few Austrian ice wines in my time. Let’s see what I make of their ice perry. My bottle was bought in the pre-Brexit era, but our continental friends can still pick a 375ml bottle up here for €22.29.

Genussbauernhoff Distelberger Pyrus Glacialis Eis Birne No.1 – review

How I served: Chilled

Appearance: Viscous amber gold

On the nose: Where’s Chris and his article on the sublime? Because ‘sublime’, friends, is what’s coming out of this glass. He purest honeys and apricot syrups and yuzu marmalade and rose petals and pear puree – even pear tart, sweet glazed pastry and all. Golden sultanas. In a way, feels like a hybrid of Sauternes and Coteaux du Layon – certainly the closest to the flavours of a dessert wine that any cider or perry has previously taken me – yet at the same time entirely its own thing, as you would hope and expect. Luscious, billowing, complex perfume.

In the mouth: Again I say sublime. Lusciously sweet, but freshened and balanced by a thread of mouthwatering acidity which thrills and trills but never runs to excess. Huge apricots and pineapple – fresh and syrup – more marmalade and much more honey. Chopped hazelnuts, crystallised pear and Turkish delight. There’s something new and mesmerising and utterly delicious with every sip. This has depth and brightness, pure indulgence and refreshing zip.

In a nutshell: Nectar. I need a lie-down. Sublime, sublime, sublime.

Conclusions

Two good, one very good, two I’m less sure about and one that blew me away is a pretty good return on six perries I dived into with scant frame of reference. Proof, alongside yesterday’s stellar trio of Kertelreiters, that there is a treasure trove of diverse and delicious flavour to be uncovered on the continent if you look in the right places.

It remains my fond hope that some of these wonderful things will be brought to UK perry lovers by intrepid importers. But it also feels as though I need to cast off a bit of that travel anxiety and, when time and finances allow, sneak across the channel on a European pear hunt.

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