We’ve been very lucky in the responses to this spotlight series we’ve received from American makers — only one fewer than from English makers at the time of writing — and today our tour of the States continues via Dave Carr of Raging Cider & Mead Co.
Serendipitously, Raging also continues our theme of giving broad geographical coverage of America’s perrymakers; having started in New York State, with Grisamore, then moved west to find Blossom Barn in Oregon, we’re now heading south down the coast to California.
This geographical spread is especially fascinating to me. Europe’s perries, whilst certainly made in different climates, are at least relatively similar in their growing conditions. (Allowing for greater continentality in Mostviertel than in Domfront or the Three Counties.) I find it remarkable that perry is being made in such diverse environments as the trio of Americans we have touched on so far — not least because Dave, as we’ll learn, is even looking south across the border to Mexico — and I think our understanding of pear growing and perrymaking can only be increased by learning about them.
With that in mind, over to you Dave…
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
Dave: Our cidery is Raging Cider & Mead Co located in San Diego County, California (just north of the Mexico border). We are a small family cidery consisting of myself, Dave Carr, my wife Kerry Carr, our son Travis Carr, daughter in law Lindsay Carr, daughter Sierra Wolf, and son in law Cody Wolf plus a friend/employee Leigh Booth. We own a small orchard and manage two other orchards as well as work with other local San Diego County orchards with an eye to rebuild the declining local orchard industry. My parents were from Liverpool and I was born in Toronto before we immigrated to the USA. I mostly grew up here in San Diego and spent my young years in the 80’s & early 90’s involved in the local punk rock scene, hence the name Raging and our punk rock apple logo.
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
Dave: We started making perrys along with ciders as we had access to a large amount of pears. I also had fell in love with perry, as well as cider, while visiting family n England and so was inspired to see what we could do with the fruit here.
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).
Dave: We’re located in San Diego County which is a widely varied region from beaches to coastal plains, foothills, mountain peaks reaching 6,000 feet in elevation, and inland desert. In the late 1800’s the early settlers brought with them apple & pear trees to plant in orchards from Palomar Mountain in the north to Julian in the east to Guatay in the south mostly between 3,500 & 5,500 feet in elevation where there is plenty of chill in winter as well as rain and snow fall. The soils are granitic based with a fair amount of alluvial soils as well as clays in various locations. Our weather is quite dry compared to many other places, most of our rain occurs in the winter with occasional downpours in July-September from the summer monsoons to the east.
Pears were originally grown mostly for eating and there are not really any records of use in perry making beyond for personal consumption until about 10 years ago when Julian CiderWorks first opened. There is an extremely limited to no perry or cider culture pre-existing here. That said, there is a small but growing number of people who are enjoying ciders and perrys.
On a side note: I was talking to some winemakers from the Valle de Guadalupe just south of the border in Mexico; and, there are apparently old pear as well as apple and quince trees down there. I hope to meet up with them soon to see what they have as they’re interested in possibly making wines (cider, perry, etc) from them.
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.
Dave: We currently work with an American variety, Lincoln pear, which is mildly tannic, mildly acidic, and perfect for perry making as they have low sorbitol when picked. The Lincoln pears also are regular medium to heavy producers even in drought years.
In addition, pears, oddly, seem to like the conditions here and have proliferated in the wild around the county. We have been foraging these pears to make a wild perry, Perry Feral, which is being released for the first time this year. There are a number of high tannin wild pears as well as a few with medium to high acidity, for pears. We have a couple favorites we’ve named Screaching Weasel (extreme tannins and medium acidity) and Holler pear (light tannins, medium/highacidity, and a tropical flavor).
We’re currently grafting our favorite wild pears to see how they perform in an orchard environment with the hope to expand our perry production. We’ve also planted a couple wild pears from cideries in New York & Massachusetts to see how they perform here. In addition, we’ve planted a few German & English perry pear varieties to see how they perform.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Dave: We make our perrys, as well as our ciders, using native yeast and low intervention methods. Our Lincoln Perry has been produced for the keg and served on tap with very light carbonation. Our Perry Feral is a bottled sparkling perry produced in the traditional method and disgorged. Both are fermented to as dry as they go with the Lincoln Perry having extremely low residual sweetness while the Perry Feral has a low medium residual sweetness well balanced by the tannins & acidity (though low enough to avoid any unpleasant experience after enjoying, haha).
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Dave: The relative low acidity of pears in comparison to apples can cause some issues with spoilage bacterias. Where we do not add SO2 to our ciders; we will do a minimal adjustment to our perrys if the acidity is too low to prevent off flavors. The process of pressing pears can be a bit more challenging than apples as they have less fibrous structure and can require the addition of rice hulls to properly press out the juice. In addition, it seems to take much longer for our perrys to clear in comparison to our cider.
We currently make only smaller quantities of perry and tend to sell them out. With regards to growing, we mostly have to contend with fireblight in some of the wild varieties as well as some slower growth patterns than apples (ie: a longer time until the trees come into production).
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Dave: I love the absolutely different experience that perry is from cider and from wine. It’s unlike anything most people have ever tasted. I love watching people’s first experience with it, especially when they realize they like it. It is gratifying when a perry works out after all the hard work that goes into making it.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Dave: It can more easily, in my experience, develop off flavours. Also, when working with wild varieties, you’re never sure what sort of sorbitol levels you’re going to get, so there is the fun (not fun) of fermenting different batches (sometimes very tiny amounts) to see what sort of levels you get.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Dave: I am in love with perry and spicy Mexican food to be honest with you. I find it to be a match made in heaven.
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
Dave: “It’s like nothing you’ve tasted before; and, no, it does not really taste like pears.” Also, due to the American palate: “It has a touch of residual sweetness.”
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Dave: My favourite perry to date is our Perry Feral, it reminds me a lot of a Flakey Bark perry I had from Ross on Wye. I also love some of Tom Oliver’s perrys. There’s also a super interesting and delicious perry that I’ve had from Blackduck Cidery in New York. It’s fruity, fairly dry, and not at all what I expected when opening the bottle. Oooh, had a great perry by Eden Cider from Vermont as well.
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.