Don’t worry, I’m not ‘back back.’ Just sticking my head around the door, as I said I would from time to time when something extra special gives the old blogging compulsions a jolt.
In this instance, ‘something extra special’ took the form of a perry I have been waiting for for years – since before I was really a part of the online cider and perry communicati. It’s a perry I’ve mentioned almost every time I’ve climbed onto my ‘rare and endangered pear varieties’ soapbox, which is to say more or less every time I’ve written about perry. But it’s also a perry which I’ve not previously had a chance to taste. Oliver’s Coppy.
I’m far from alone in not having tasted it. there hasn’t been a single variety Coppy bottled in about the last four years – certainly since well before the current rebirth of wide(ish)spread interest in fermented pear juice. Off the top of my head, the last available vintage was 2015. It was cited as the “Drink It” from Tom’s range in Gabe Cook’s Ciderology of 2018, but print timelines and limited releases being the contrary beasts that they are, had sold out before the book hit shelves. (I know, because I looked everywhere for it on more or less the day the book was published). There weren’t even bottles to be had at Middle Farm in Lewes which, with its aversion to selling over the internet, was the last homely house for many a unicorn bottling for years. So I made my grumbling peace with having missed out and waited impatiently for whenever the next vintage appeared.
Which it resolutely failed to do. There was a splash of Coppy in Tom’s Writer’s Perry, a collaborative blend from the 2018 vintage that he made with Dan Saladino, but so far as I’m aware that’s the sole appearance the variety has made since before I’d even visited Tom for the first time.
Why? The usual perry pear tree frustration, I’m afraid. We have groused here several times before about the biennial nature of many varieties, wherein trees fail to consistently ripen a full crop year on year. With some varieties that’s not so much of an issue – if some trees aren’t cropping healthily one year you can harvest from others instead. But when you’re harvesting critically rare varieties that opportunity disappears. We’ve talked before about Flakey Bark, harvested and made into perry by the Johnsons at Ross on Wye, with only six mature trees to satisfy the world. Their meagre yields for the last few years have seen a vintage hiatus from 2017 to 2020 (you can see what I thought of the 2020 below). But Tom Oliver’s Coppy is rarer still. Only one mature tree remains in existence.
Just think about that. Think how frail and fragile that is. Just one tree left, standing alone in some corner of a Herefordshire field. Struggling gamely on, not even able to summon a crop most years. A bad storm, an unfortunately-aimed lightning bolt or (more likely, given its increasing presence) the sudden appearance of incurable fire blight, and it’s goodbye tree, goodbye variety and goodbye to the unique flavours, characteristics and drink that it was once able to produce. A shrunken world. A step back. An irretrievable loss.
I know. I know. You’ve read all this before. Perry is rare, varieties are endangered, you get it – sing a new tune, Wells. But the problem is that, broadly, people don’t get it. They don’t even know. Perry as a whole drink is, to all intents and purposes, unheard of, never mind individual pear varieties. If Flakey Bark, Coppy, Betty Prosser and Cefnydd Hyfryd were all wiped out tomorrow barely anyone would know, let alone care. In the last six years there have only been eight books published anywhere in the world about cider, which is a pretty sad state of affairs in and of itself. But there hasn’t been a single one written about perry.
And yet whenever – whenever – I seem to pour a perry for a friend who has never tried one before I get an ‘eyes lighting up’ moment; a look of ‘oh my God, what is that?’ that no other drinks seems to quite conjure. Whenever I slip a perry into a lineup of ciders it inevitably emerges as one of the favourites, if not top of the tree. Though its flavours and identity are entirely its own, it is unquestionably closer to wine – particularly white wine – in profile than any cider is, and from my own experience I find perry pairs well with foods that cider and wine can’t get close to. It is simply impossible to drink a good perry and not wonder why it doesn’t see more of a spotlight; why more people aren’t eulogising it as it deserves. Quoting Tom Oliver, “Cider’s great, and I drink far more cider than perry, but if I want to show off to somebody it’s usually a perry I go for. What a drink. What a drink.”
I’m a hypocrite. For all I bemoan the threatened status of perry and perry pear trees, I’m not responsible for the planting of a single one. It isn’t me standing up in front of groups of people to promote it, or lobbying local or national government for better promotion or protection. I’m not corralling makers to form any sort of perry association as the likes of Austria’s Mostbarone or the perry producers of Normandy’s Domfront did. It isn’t me doing the advocacy at the Three Counties Show – it’s the irrepressible team at Ragged Stone, whose Perry Festival I am hugely remiss in not even having covered. And it isn’t me ensuring that the Coppy, the Flakey Bark, the other critically rare species are grafted and spread.
I am, and have only ever been, a fan with a keyboard. But the work – the real work – is being put in to keep these precious pears and drinks from extinction. We have met Kertelreiter’s Barry Masterson, and discussed his International Perry Pear Project, to graft and grow rare perry pear varieties from around the world, before. People like Charles Martell and Jim Chapman at the National Perry Pear Centre in Hartpury are doing similar things on an even larger scale here in the UK, to say nothing of the huge advocacy done by makers like Tom Oliver, Chris and the team at Ragged Stone, the Johnsons at Ross on Wye and so many more besides. Perry has incredible, dedicated champions doing remarkable and often thankless work, and that work deserves more noise than it gets. Which seems as good a reason as any to pop back to the keyboard.
Today’s Coppy is a triumph of that undersung endeavour. So before tasting it, a few kind words from Tom about the variety and how this bottling came into being.
“I must have discovered the mother tree around 2000-2003 and had been picking in the orchard probably from about 1997. The actual period of time from me picking the fruit, to realising what it might be and then getting Jim Chapman and Charles Martell to see it and then submitting for DNA testing etc. took years but sometime around 2007 I think we all had come to agree that this was for real.
The tree is very pretty and resembles a weeping willow in some respects. The fruit is huffcap in shape except when it is more oblate or turbid, russeted and blushed except when green or unripe.
It is very intermittent in cropping, we seem to actually get a good crop no more than once every 3/4 years which is gruesome. May well be a tree age thing too.
We have with the help of John Worle and Bulmers sent loads of bud and graft wood and so now there are many farmers with young trees.
The fruit for this Perry was from the young trees planted at my place in 2014, so some 6 years after planting at 2 years old we get a crop that yields 540 x 375ml bottles from some 6 trees!!
These baby trees have been very very shy. I sometimes wonder if it will be a tortoise and hare situation.
Love the younger fruit because it seems to display higher acidity, lower pH but the confection/floral notes are either diminished or subdued from Perry from the mother tree.
This Perry is from 2020 fruit. Pressed and fermented in blue oak [an affectionate term for the ubiquitous blue plastic barrels – Ed] and then conditioned in bottle from May 2021and then released Jan 2022.”
Talking of rare pear varieties not seen for a few years, there’s a new vintage of Flakey Bark out from Ross on Wye. Which as a tremendous fan of both of the bottled 2017s, as well as the blend of Flakey Bark and Thorn that was kegged in the meantime, is news that gladdens my heart greatly. This new bottling came from one of three barrels produced in 2020. Having spent over a year ponderously fermenting in a neutral container (and still not finishing) it was eventually bottled and released at the end of last year. A 750ml is £10 directly from Ross, a ridiculous £7.65 from Scrattings (at the time of writing – normal price there is £9) or £9.50 from The Cat in the Glass. Again, stunningly reasonable, all things considered, but i the spirit of transparency I should say that Albert kindly gave me the bottle reviewed below as a sample.
Finally I was very grateful to be sent a perry by one of our readers, Tom, who reached out after I reviewed the Johnson Khan Llewellyn perries back in November. Tom had also made perry from the Burgundy Pear variety featured in the JKLs which, though not at the same level of critically endangered as Coppy or Flakey Bark, is nonetheless comparatively thin on the ground. Tom’s is an unoaked single variety Burgundy from the 2020 vintage harvested from Monmouthshire’s Ty Mawr Orchard and bottled under his Fishpool Cider brand. I have no idea whether it is commercially available anywhere, I’m afraid, but if Tom reads this he’ll hopefully make it known on twitter or in the comments below. I know he sent the sample without expectation of it appearing on these pages, but it seemed too interesting a prospect to leave out – hopefully he’ll still be a reader post-review.
Oliver’s Fine Perry – Coppy 2020 – review
How I served: Medium chilled
Appearance: Virtually still; oaked Chardonnay
On the nose: This smells yellow to me in so many wonderful ways. Buttercups, light floral honey, lemon zest. There’s gooseberry and a touch of melon (yellow again) then ripe, golden pear with that brush of rough-textured pear skin and a herbal edge. Ripens the longer it sits open and warms, the fruits emerging more.
In the mouth: Deliciously textural; that light cat’s tongue scrape of Velcro-rip tannin offset by zesty, citrusy acidity and a plump medium body. Crystallised lemon, lychee. Wonderfully fresh with a beautifully balanced dab of sweetness. A real ‘holy trinity’ pear – acid, tannin and weight of fruit in tremendously refreshing equilibrium. Fab on its own, but feels as though it would be very versatile with food.
In a nutshell: Worth the wait. Thorn meets Hendre Huffcap, to me. Gorgeous perry.
Ross on Wye Flakey Bark 2020 – review
How I served: Medium chilled then left out of fridge
Appearance: Rich amber (very deep for perry) with a spritzy, lightly-frothy mousse.
On the nose: Long-standing readers will know my thoughts on the f-word, but sometimes my hand is forced. This, my friends, in all the best ways possible, has funk. Earthy, soily, dead-leaf-mulchy, cured meat, pear skin, couldn’t-be-anything-but-Flakey-Bark funk. Lanolin and petrichor. A blast of autumn written in a pear, though this remains the hardest of all varieties to pin down with descriptors. Besides the above there’s some sweetness of toffee waffle and super-ripe peach, but I’m slightly clutching at straws.
In the mouth: This is full-throttle Flakey and I absolutely adore it. Huge body that has clung to a fair bit of sweetness as well as massive mouth-and-teeth-wrapping tannins which aren’t coarse, but rather add to the voluptuousness and weight of the drink. Flavours follow the nose pretty precisely and are every bit as hard to dissect into any sort of constituent parts. Visceral, outdoorsy, but with big fruits and possibly even honeys amidst the earth and cure. There’s even a touch of herbal bitterness. Acid is very mild but this has a lot of youthful freshness and vitality.
In a nutshell: Flakey Bark at full tilt. Hulking, rich, bombastic, mouthcoating, iconic. Too much personality to be labelled a ‘crowdpleaser’ but God I love it.
Fishpool Cider Ty Mawr Orchard Monmouthshire Burgundy 2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Cloudy hay. All but still.
On the nose: An intensely slatey-mineral nose of almost Ross-ish character (though nothing like the above!) but lighter and accompanied by hawthorn blossom and cut grass. A hint of fermentation, crystalline green pear and yuzu citrus, Fresh, elegant, aromatic and defined.
In the mouth: Unexpectedly juicy arrival. Fruit forward, and quite exotic – ripe melon (honeydew and cantaloupe for me), red berries, fleshy pear. A nice medium tannin grip and a lemony zest of freshening acidity (less of both than in the Coppy). A touch of yeast and more of that slateyness.
In a nutshell: A really poised, energetic, fresh and vibrant perry. A joy to drink – thanks Tom!
Wonderful things, all three of them. Buy the first two, and if Tom goes commercial, the third as well. Lovely, diverse, full of flavour. All three made me smile. My world is bigger for these varieties existing.
One last thought, for the time being: I try (usually I fail) not to look at or read into Cider Review’s statistics too often, and of course we’re immensely grateful for every click and every five minutes spent reading something we’ve written. But the previous article on Flakey Bark – a story I feel to be one of the most compelling and certainly one of the most immediately urgent in cider and perry – was one of the least viewed pieces we published last year.
When we write on faults, or on the poor and opaque practices indulged by Macro cider (as it is important that we should), the views are, by comparison, orders of magnitude higher. The fact that nearly three years after its release, the original 2017 Flakey Bark – hardly a big-batch creation – is still available to buy, tells its own additional story.
Perry is in ruder health than it has been for a decade, but for its star to continue rising, for trees to be planted and varieties saved, we need to support its corps of champions as whole-heartedly and full-throatedly as we can. This drink is too special, and too delicious, to countenance losing.