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Three perries from Johnson Khan Llewelyn (JKL)

Well, Ridiculously Good Perry Monday somehow still tumbles along on twitter, even if it is really only thanks to the sterling efforts of Jack and Alison these days. I’ve absolutely let the side down this year; just the odd sporadic dabble here or there, pretending to be Mondaying like we did in 2020, which is not a phrase that I feel will slip into popular parlance.

Anyway. As a little bit of personal redemption for my lacklustre RGPM-ing, how about a trio of perries from a brand new producer?

It says rather a lot about perry’s place in the perceived order of drinks that here in the UK, one of the world’s three perry heartlands, there are virtually no producers (that I am aware of) to whom perry is the sole – or even primary, really – commercial concern. Or at least that was the case until Monmouthshire’s JKL (Johnson Khan Llewelyn).

The eponymous trio are Henry Johnson, whose family orchard boasts the seven trees (each an astonishing 250 years old) from which the perry is made, Alex Khan (MBE) whose experience seems to stretch over a huge spread of things from cooking to brewing to apprenticeship training (he runs the largest company for this in the UK) and Ben Llewelyn, who has been in the wine trade since 1996, “had his head turned” by biodynamic producers whilst studying for the Master of Wine course in France, and ultimately went on to import them through Carte Blanche wines.

Given this breadth of experience, particularly Ben’s in the wine industry, I was unsurprised to be sent a tremendous amount of information when I reached out to ask about the particularly wine-like bottles that started appearing on Instagram. JKL make their perries predominantly from the Burgundy variety, a Welsh pear that was only relatively recently rediscovered and identified and so, intriguingly, is not mentioned in Charles Martell’s Pears of Gloucestershire and Perry Pears of the Three Counties (though perhaps the clue is that it’s not in the Three Counties …) Henry’s farm also boasts the sole known mature example of a Llanarth Green tree as well as a single Thorn.

The twenty tonnes pressed in 2020 on an old Victorian press that they rented themselves have been divided into three cuvées, each one with the vintage stated. The first is their Monmouthshire Burgundy, a single variety fermented spontaneously in stainless steel. Second is an 80:20 blend of Burgundy with Llanarth Green, again spontaneously fermented in stainless steel, but in this instance bottled “with still a little Malolactic Fermentation to go (Like Vinho Verde*)” as the press release has it. Lastly there’s another single variety Burgundy, this time fermented and aged in a barrique that previously held white Bordeaux. All were bottled without fining, filtration or sulphites.

Ben mentioned that they’ve conducted a few tiny-batch experiments yet to see the light of day – skin contact, ice perry and, particularly intriguingly, a Ripasso-style perry, made by adding this year’s pulp to a 300 litre tank of last year’s perry, mirroring a technique popular with red wine makers in various areas of Italy, but perhaps most famously in Valpolicella.

Having worked on perry with Gregg’s Pit’s James Marsden for some time, Ben cites him as a particular influence in their work, describing GP as “easily the best British perry there is,” – rather a bold claim, but one that would certainly see a handful of heads nodding in agreement. The labels and general bottle style is specifically designed to put wine-like notions into consumer heads; we’ve mentioned more than once that perry is far more sensorially aligned with wine – or at least with various white wines – than cider is, and that’s certainly the impression that these bottles convey.

750ml bottles come with an RRP of £10 each for the Monmouthshire Burgundy and the Burgundy & Llanarth Green, and £12 for the Barrique, though in the name of transparency I should mention that although I bought a set of three I received an additional trio as samples. JKL can offer delivery via APC – your best bet is to reach out to them directly via their Instagram here.

But we probably ought to see what they taste like first.

JKL Monmouthshire Burgundy 2020 – review

How I served: Light-medium chilled

Appearance: Pearlescent pale straw. Still.

On the nose: Some pretty aromatics here. A nice interplay of fleshy – though delicate – pear fruit and florals. Blossom, light Turkish Delight. There’s a sense of minerality and greenery combined that feels rather like the smell of walking beside a river. Nice.

In the mouth: Off-dry, just, with more of those ripe green notes, floral flourishes and mineral elements. I can certainly see the Gregg’s Pit influence. Very soft – no tannin and not much acidity. A gentle perry. There’s a tiny hint of volatility that isn’t quite to my personal taste, but it’s not at an offputting level overall – I doubt many folk would notice or be bothered.

In a nutshell: Soft, green, delicate perry albeit with a touch of volatility.

JKL Llanarth Green Monmouthshire Burgundy 2020 – review

How I served: Medium chilled

Appearance: Similar, but a touch more golden and with a very light spritz

On the nose: Again a nice cloud of perfumed aromatics rises up. Possibly even more floral – rose water, and indeed roses full stop. Honeysuckle. Currants. A bit of extra richness from the lees. Pear skins and firmer pear flesh. All very fresh.

In the mouth: Bright and vivacious – that tiny spritz buoying some lovely primary fruit. The florals remain but there’s an additional juiciness that is at once both green and tropical. Again there’s some richness from the lees and again the body and texture is lovely and rounded and soft in the mouth.

In a nutshell: An elegant, accomplished perry that I would certainly point Loire and Alsace fans towards.

JKL Barrique 2020 – review

How I served: Lightly chilled

Appearance: Hazy lemon’n’lime. Still.

On the nose: Very much my bag. All three parts of the story – the fresh, floral Burgundy pear perry, the clean-lined toasty spicing of French oak and the green fruit, almost stemmy/green bell pepper and waxiness of the white Bordeaux – are in delicious and cohesive attendance. It is complex, it is fresh, it is layered and it tells its story fabulously. Super nose.

In the mouth: Delivery is nearly as good as aroma. The round, gentle texture – which at this point we can call a JKL, or perhaps JKL x Burgundy Pear hallmark – allows all those notes from the nose to strut their stuff. Fuller-bodied than the other two, with the toasty oak and rich lees influence offsetting the fresh greenery and florals deliciously. That green, mineral riverside walk vibe again. Some juicy pear and honey dew fruit gives it even more roundness.

In a nutshell: Very good stuff. Super marriage of pear and cask. Highly recommended – to perry or wine lovers.

Conclusions

A generally excellent first outing for an exciting new Welsh perry producer. Very interesting to try not only a maker, but also a pear variety that is virtually new to me, and JKL have conjured some excellent things indeed from their seven trees, with compelling similarities and differences between each one.

Barrique is my pick, especially for that mesmerising nose – very nice stuff indeed, worthy of any Monday – with the Llanarth Green blend just behind in second place. But there’s more than enough here across the board to stick JKL straight on my “keep a close eye on” list. Good things continue to be happening in Wales.

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In addition to my writing and editing on Cider Review I contribute to other drinks sites and magazines including Graftwood, JancisRobinson.com, Full Juice, Distilled and Burum Collective. I share my home with several hundred bottles, one geophysicist and a small fluffy belligerent called Nutmeg. @CiderReviewAdam on Twitter and Instagram.

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