One of the wonderful repercussions of calling into the digital void for responses to our Perry Month Spotlight Series was that, inevitably, several came from makers whose perries I had either never reviewed or never tried full stop.
Today I’m delighted to introduce someone who falls into the latter category … though after having read their responses I am determined to rectify my omission as soon as possible.
We’re heading, for the first time this series, to England’s perry heartland of the Three Counties, to meet Jack Worthington of Mr Rare Pear. Jack’s insights into and passion for perry were an absolute joy to read, and just as much of a joy to share with you today.
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
Jack: Hello, my name is Jack Worthington and I am the founder of Mr Rare Pear where we not only make perry but we also concern ourselves with the identification, propagation and distribution of perry pear trees as part of our non-profit conservation project. It is our aim to preserve rare and endangered perry pear trees for future generations whilst providing invaluable wildlife habitat… and make some delicious perry along the way.
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
Jack: It was never my plan to make perry, my background is in ecology, conservation and agriculture. I have worked in several countries studying and preserving endangered species. When I was introduced to real perry- a bottle of Flakey Bark from Ross Cider, I liked it so much I enquired about the type of pears that were used to make it and was shocked to learn that there were only three mature trees left in existence. I had accidentally stumbled across another endangered species and decided to look into perry pear trees further. I learnt more about other rare and extant varieties of perry and also realised their significance in supporting countless wildlife species and significantly boosting biodiversity.
I must admit I remember saying at the time that I had no interest in making perry myself but inevitably fell into perry making. Working with a lot of endangered animals, I have fallen into worse things over the years.
CR: Tell us about where you are. Its connection to perry and pear trees. The landscape (perhaps even the terroir!) and any perry culture (or lack thereof).
Jack: We are based near Garway in Herefordshire- which is obviously cider and perry country but we are also in sight of May Hill in Gloucestershire, the perry epicentre and a stone’s throw from the Monmouthshire border and the Monnow valley – an area rich in perry pear growing history and where some of the most flavoursome pears are grown. The Monmow valley offers protection from wind, traps the heat of the sun during warmer months and also allows cool air to flow through from the Black Mountains- this is a winning combination of conditions that perry pears love.
CR: Tell us about some of the pear varieties you work with. How they are to grow and work with and the different flavours they bring? Tell us about any of your favourites.
Jack: Last year we made over a dozen types of perry but the variety we make the most of each year is Winnals Longdon- so you could say this is our signature perry. We like this pear as it is very local, halling from Weston under Penyard- just outside Ross on Wye and is a heavy and reliable cropper that gives good juice yields with fairly high SG levels. The pears are blushed, russeted and have a variable tannic content. The perry is slightly acidic and has white wine quality to it and goes exceptionally well with a Sunday roast, making it an all year perry.
When it comes to the grafting and propagating side of what we do, the criteria of which varieties we select to grow is very simple- the rarer the better.
We also offer a free emergency grafting service to any rare perry pear trees that fall victim to the winds during winter and early spring. We take scions from fallen trees with the aim of propagating grafts to replace the fallen tree the scion was taken from.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Jack: We make perry as naturally as possible and as to date remain sulphite- free. Perry has a much broader spectrum of flavours than cider ranging from very subtle and mineral to perries that really pack a punch such as super lemony Green Horse and the wonderfully tangy Thorn. In all cases we like to preserve the natural flavours and characteristics as much as possible so do not mature our perries in whiskey barrels- In my opinion taking a wonderfully natural and uniquely flavoured perry and sullying it by sticking it in an overpowering bourbon whiskey barrel is amounting to vandalism. I do not believe that perry needs its flavour being messed with, it is a classic drink much like Champagne and should be appreciated for what it is… wonderful.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Jack: A lot of people say that making perry is harder than cider making, touch wood, I have not found this to be the case. I think there are more things that can go wrong with cider, subtle issues, whilst if perry goes bad you know about it- we all dread that rotten egg smell. Stranger things can happen during fermentation however and we have all observed aliens bobbing around in the barrel and there can certainly be more waste when racking off.
I think the main challenge we face as producers is physically introducing people to real perry. Grabbing people’s attention online with posts and articles about perry is less than half the battle. Somebody who has not tried real perry before but now wants to because you have advocated the beverage so well online is generally not going to be from a perry producing area- hence why they have not tried it and perry as it is not a common and widely distributed product. So if somebody reads an article about perry or sees an instagram post and wants to try a bottle, there must also be the means for a person to obtain a bottle. Realistically is this person likely to order some craft perry online or are they going to be much more likely to look for perry in the shops where they live? If there is no perry on the shelves that person is highly likely to end up trying mass produced “pear cider” which we all know is hardly the same thing.
I have no doubt in my mind that perry will become more popular again sooner or later and to prepare for this rise in demand, we should consider planting more trees now, everything boils down to the importance of preserving varieties and getting them planted in the ground.
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Jack: It is hard not to be inspired by perry, the taste alone is inspiring to learn more, it certainly inspired me.
I believe there is something very old and mysterious about perry and perry pear trees which stirs our deep inherited memory, our ancestors certainly would have drank perry and it would have tasted exactly the same now as back then, whenever “then” was. We really do not know much about the history of perry in this country or when we first started making it. Records date back to the 1600’s but I’m pretty sure it was before then, I believe we have been drinking perry since Anglo-Saxon times.
I find Perry pear trees themselves very inspiring, mysterious and looming giants of a bygone era, limbs broken, clinging on for dear life yet somehow still bearing fruit. Pears are said to be one of the oldest fruits so it’s not hard to understand why so many wildlife species are attracted to them, many species evolved and developed with the presence of pear trees.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Jack: My greatest frustration surrounding perry other than when it is referred to as “pear cider” has to be something I hear frequently even from perry makers and enthusiasts- is people’s reluctance to invest in planting perry pear trees because of the length of time it takes for them to mature and give fruit. This is not a helpful attitude. Each winter we lose more and more veteran perry pear trees to high winds- in some cases there are but a handful of individuals of some varieties left hand each year these numbers become fewer and fewer. We perry makers all rely on trees to give us fruit, it’s time we thought more in terms of the future and future generations and less about the here and now. If we do not graft and preserve these trees, we will lose them, it’s that simple.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Jack: A very attractive thing about perry is that it goes well with so many types of food that I could bang on about food pairing for an eternity. But perry being so promiscuous with pairing and the fact that it is the ultimate summer drink makes it perfect for a picnic, cheese board or buffet or any scenario where there are a lot of different flavours on offer.
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
Jack: You can help save an endangered species by drinking it.
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Jack: Our 2021 Blakeney Red will take some beating, it was perfectly balanced, fresh as a daisy with lots of natural bubbles.. a good drop. Blakeney Red is not my favourite perry, though up there in my top five.
My all time favourite perries from other producers have to be Gin Pear and Betty Prosser both from Cwm Maddoc – Hollow Ash Orchard. Jeremy Harris is the perry makers perry maker.
It’s not too late to take part in our Perry Month Spotlight series! If you’re a perrymaker reading this, be it in the Three Counties, Domfront, Mostviertel … or anywhere else, we would love to learn about you too. Just drop us a message with your email, and Adam will get the interview out to you.