I can’t remember the first perry I knowingly tried, but I know it would have been reluctantly.
Around late 2017, or thereabouts, the focus of my drinks wonkishness had begun to shift. I had written about whisky for around three years by then, and a few frustrations with certain aspects of the industry had begun to slip into my writing. I was feeling a little disenchanted; a little disconnected, perhaps, from what I saw as the most important aspects of a drink I loved. A little uncertain about banging the drum for an industry which felt increasingly cynical.
Cider was a breath of fresh air. At that time, exciting new producers were starting to appear on the market, and existing producers were pushing themselves harder, reaching out with more zeal to new consumers. I felt I had looked under the rock of what had previously just been the pub go-to I offered no further thought, and had discovered a world of styles, flavours, people and places I could never have imagined. A world which, the more I dug, the more I felt was underserved in terms of the online inches dedicated to its appreciation.
Thus began my new trajectory. Although I continued to write about whisky for the next three years, my intention was fixed: I was going to learn as much as I could about cider, and when I felt ready (it wasn’t really for another two years) I was going to start blogging about it. (I fancied I’d one day write a book, but that ambition looks a little more threadbare with every passing year).
What I wasn’t going to write about was perry.
I felt very resolved on this point. I was going to be a laser-focussed cider writer (other than the articles I continued to write about whisky and the nine to five job I had writing about wine, obviously). None of this pear nonsense tagging along. My conviction in this respect was strengthened by the fact that I didn’t (still don’t) like pears terribly much. They always seemed to be underripe or overripe, and even when they were somewhere in the middle I was underwhelmed. I didn’t buy any perry, I didn’t drink any perry, and that, as far as I was concerned, was going to be that.
I’ve been racking my brains to try and think when I finally cracked and tasted one, and I simply can’t recall. Possibly when I first visited Ross on Wye — albeit that visit was only a few hours. We certainly tasted our way through a good few barrels, and it would make a lot of sense if Albert had asked if I wanted to try a perry. I doubt very much whether I would have been brave (or stupid) enough to say ‘no’ if he did. I did most of my tasting at home back in those days (still do) so I can’t imagine that one day I just added a perry to the Scrattings cart.
But I do remember when I finally came round to the idea of perry. I had emailed a relatively new producer, Little Pomona, asking whether my cousin and I could drop round to their cidery and ask some questions. To my immense surprise, not only did they say “yes, that’s fine”; they asked whether I would like to stay for lunch.
Which was how I found myself meeting James and Susanna Forbes for the first time, and how I found myself sitting at the table in their kitchen with a flight of their upcoming releases. The one that particularly took me was the then soon-to-be-launched champagne method Brut Crémant, but my second favourite, and the bottle that really captured my cousin’s mind and palate, was their first ever perry: Pét Nat Perry 2017.
My cousin is the sort of person who latches on like a terrier to anything that catches his imagination, and so when we took our leave of Little Pomona, the perry was what we were talking about. And, as luck would have it, we were on our way to a perry specialist: Martin Harris at Butford Organics. He led us around his orchard, pointed out the Coppy trees he had grafted from the one remaining mature specimen in existence and, most importantly, opened a bottle of his sparkling Aurora.
Reader, I got it.
Since then I have made up for lost time as thoroughly as I can. And what I have discovered, even more than with cider; more indeed than with any other drink, is just how compelling perry is.
Just think about it for a moment. It is possible to drink perry made from a tree which was first harvested before the French revolution, or the American war of independence. There are perries made from pear varieties of which only one, or three, or six, or a dozen mature trees remain in existence. These are trees that tower over their appley cousins; which may well be the biggest plants harvested to make any drink anywhere in the world. No agricultural land inspires more awe than a perry pear orchard; to walk, for instance, I defy you to enter the perry tree paddock at Ross, to see those towering giants, so remarkably different in their fruit, from vivid writhing branches of clustered emerald ping pong balls to earthy, russeted pyriforms and glossy blushes of red and not feel in some way moved.
Then there are the makers; people who are carrying on an unbroken tradition that stretches back at least a thousand years in this country, longer in France, and all the way back to at least the ancient Romans and very probably beyond. People who are entirely aware that the drink is unknown, unfashionable, a pain to make and (perhaps until very recently) even more of a pain to sell, but who make it nonetheless. People who, in France, have fought for perry’s place in legal recognition and have, against the odds, vastly expanded both planting of trees and production of perry. Who in England have battled for a resurgence after sales had dipped to less than a quarter of what they had been in the advent of fruit cider. Who in Austria have banded together to form a perrymaker’s union, the Mostbarone, to champion this magnificent drink and bring it the recognition it deserves. Who in countries all around the world where there is no history of perrymaking, or where perry has all but fallen away, are bringing their gorgeous creations to bottle and market, not because it is easier than another drink but simply because of how ridiculously good it can be.
And then there is the taste. The dazzling spectrum of green, fresh, zesty, citrus electricity through to the luscious, juicy apricots, melons and peaches, the cooling, soulful, deeply evocative petrichors and woodland, the bouquets of flowers from white blossom to heady, tropical blooms, the unctuous honeys and marmalades and the endless list of flavours that prove almost impossible to pin down, because they exist in nothing but perry. Not forgetting thilling, lingering, bewildering textures; the unique cat’s tongue brush of perry tannins, the plump, rounded mouthfeels or lean, racy zips of acidity; the sweetnesses that sashay from flatey dryness to indulgent, hedonistic syrup. The kaleidoscopic tapestry of varietal inflection; each pear speaking in a different language, from subtle whispers to booming intensities; no two pears exactly alike, in flavour just as in appearance.
This website is called Cider Review. It is cider which we write about most often; there’s far more of it, after all, and its cause deserves every bit of the championing that anyone anywhere gives it. But as Tom Oliver once said: ‘cider’s great, and I drink far more of it than perry, but if I really want to show off, it’s a perry I bring out. What a drink.’
Sharing a really good perry with a friend who is tasting the drink for the first time is as sure a guarantee as I know of that you will see someone’s eyes light up. There isn’t a drink that inspires me more, about which I am more curious, or which I am keener to tell my friends about and to give a spotlight on my tiny patch of the internet.
So throughout this September we will be reprising our Perry Month, introduced last year. We’ll be posting interviews with as many perrymakers as we can alongside reviews and articles from across the team. When I sent out a group email asking whether our writers were interested in a repeat, the answers were swift and unanimous. Because that’s what perry does to those lucky enough to discover it. It casts a spell. It compels us. I hope, this month, that it compels you too.