Features, perry
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Meet your (perry)maker – Fleming’s Fife Cider

Recently I had the pleasure of tasting through a flight of truly eye-opening Scottish ciders. I hadn’t expected the quality to be anywhere near so uniform, nor the peaks to be so dizzyingly high, and I resolved to keep a careful eye on Scotland’s output thereafter.

That dozen bottles only featured a single perry though; Aster, from Digger’s Cider, and I did find myself wondering whether it might be the only perry in Scotland. So I was most interested when Robbie Fleming of Fleming’s Fife Cider got in touch.

We’ve spoken to a wide range of international perrymakers already in the course of this series, but this is our first conversation with someone at the very start of their commercial journey — though as we’ll see, not at the start of their production. So it’s a special pleasure to be able to share Robbie’s words with you today.

CR: Introduce yourself and your company.

Robbie: My name is Robbie Fleming and I set up a cider and perry micro-business in 2022, Fleming’s Fife Cider, in order to be able to sell what I make each year, which is less than 400L. 2022 will be my sixth harvest, but just my first since setting up my business. Each year I change my focus just slightly, depending on what worked well the previous year and what didn’t. This year I am having a new focus on finding pears for making perry. 

CR: How did you come to start making perry?

Robbie: I am very much a perry making novice, but this year I am going to be using fruit from some select old trees, to make a local perry. I first attempted making perry in 2018, but it was really not nice! Last year, my friend and fellow cider maker Peter Crawford, of Naughton Cider Co., let me take away 20L or so of perry pear juice in return for assisting him with the pressing that day. I hope to bottle this in the coming months, let it mature and hopefully release it in 2023 with a new label design. The pears were the famously astringent Butt variety, from down south, and both Peter and I learned a lot from the tricky process of dealing with them. For example, they will benefit from macerating for 24 hours next time.  

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).

Robbie: So Fife isn’t exactly the Mostviertel or Three Counties equivalent of Scotland! In saying that, as with the apples, there were monks in Newburgh, Balmerino and St Andrews that cultivated their own pears orchards, descended from the varieties they brought with them from France. They were known to be used for making perry. I’m based in Leuchars, in the North East of the county. There are some very individual, select pear trees that I really want to harvest this year, to ferment separately then blend before bottling. I have found certain trees that I have marked off for trying out, as follows:

1) A very old (approx 100 years+) early dessert pear in a private garden in St Andrews that seemsto resemble the 19th century Drummond pear variety from the ancient orchard of Megginch Castle.

2) Also in St Andrews, three pear trees in a garden that are ultra-tannic perry pear varieties, including possibly Butt. All three are different varieties, but seem to mature at roughly the same time in October, so I hope to blend them at pressing. They are totally inedible so hopefully make an interesting drink. I have no idea why someone planted perry pears in this part of Scotland but I’m really glad they did! 

3) Two old (again in the region of 100 years old) trees in Tayport. They could be heritage Scottish pears, possibly Hussle. The trees look fabulous, like Gloucestershire perry pear trees plonked into the middle of a coastal Fife village!

4) In the hamlet of Monimail there is a 13th century tower and walled garden, with a wild pear tree that I really want to see. It grows at a 45 degree angle out from the wall and looks to be even older than the centurion trees in St Andrews and Tayport.

5) Pitlethie House in Leuchars was once the hunting seat of James VI & I. It has a wonderful old garden including a bank of great dessert and cooking pears, which have cropped well this year.

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.

Robbie: I can only really use what grows here, which is a hotch-potch of cooking and eating varieties plus the odd interesting ones as mentioned above. I have not attempted to plant pear trees as they tend to need a walled garden or similar feature to aid their growth in Scotland. It is possible though, as a few other makers are attempting it on the vigorous pyrus rootstocks.

CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.

Robbie: The Butt perry I have will likely be still and about as dry as a perry gets. For my 2022 harvest I am aiming to catch these just right to do some pet-nat, as I believe the natural bubbles will enhance the lemony-zinginess that I like. I will just have to accept that there will be a lot of sediment in bottle that way, but it can be part of it charm.

CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?

Robbie: All of the elements of making perry are a challenge. There are just not enough good trees in my area. Over the Tay bridge, though, there are many pear tree orchards in the Carse of Gowrie. Some are 200 years old or more, and absolutely enormous. However, many are in fields with grazing animals, and are too big to harvest with standard picking poles. I’d love to catch them at just the right time, as they could be very good indeed.  In terms of selling, I can imagine it will be very difficult considering that no one seems to know what perry is here. The Scottish cider scene is just starting to get some attention, so that should help, but people will need to sample some excellent perries from us if they are to take to it. I won’t release anything until I feel it merits it.

CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?

Robbie: This year I see it as a new challenge, to find and work with new, unused fruit that could potentially be great. When we had the Scottish cider makers event this year at Guardswell farm, the organiser Digby, of Diggers Cider, had a perry and a perrykin made from trees local to the Carse and Perthshire. That has certainly inspired my pursuit of local trees. Other traditional perry makers are often so good, they could stand alone without cider and I think in some ways they would be more renowned for it. I tried a Gregg’s Pit once at Peter Crawford’s place once, alongside one of Peter’s champagnes, and they were indistinguishable. I don’t have the means to do the traditional method, but it certainly opens your eyes as to what can be achieved with pears. 

CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?

Robbie: Its willingness to go wrong. Off flavours happen in cider, but in perry they are just so much more expected. Trial and error with lots of fruit, for a high attrition rate is hard going.

CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?

Robbie: Perry has an elderflower cordial element to it which I love. Anything that enhances the summer feel, like strawberries and ice cream, would be a nice combination.

CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?

Robbie: It is lighter and easier to drink than the occasionally more challenging cider.

CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?   

Robbie: With mine, that is TBC! A few from Olivers, Gregg’ Pit, Eric Bordelet, Nightingale, Ramborn, Ross etc. were very good. The one that stands out for me was the Eve’s Cidery Sparkling Perry 2020. Everything about that captured my attention, the story, the method, the presentation and the product. The very best.

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.

This entry was posted in: Features, perry

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In addition to my writing and editing with Cider Review I contribute to other drinks sites and magazines including jancisrobinson.com, Pellicle, Full Juice, Distilled and Burum Collective. I share my home with several hundred bottles, one geophysicist and a small, disgruntled cat named Nutmeg. @adamhwells on Instagram, @Adam_HWells on twitter.

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