If we’re talking “favourite perrymakers in the world”, a few names jump into my mind. Eric Bordelet, Pacory and Ferme de l’Yonnière from France. Oliver’s, Ross, Bartestree, Cwm Maddoc from the UK (I will definitely remember at least another two as soon as I hit ‘publish).
But right up there with the very best of them, to my mind, is a tiny producer in Germany’s Schefflenz: Kertelreiter.
Barry Masterson is only coming into his fourth vintage of making perry, yet I can’t remember a single one that was anything less than exceptional. Certainly it is always a very special day when I am able to review them — though a bittersweet one, since for a lot of logistical reasons they still aren’t currently on sale in the UK. One of his creations, *insert chef’s kiss emoji* 2020, was possibly the best perry I tasted last year.
Since I first covered Barry’s wares, it’s important to note that he has become an occasional contributor on Cider Review himself. That caveat notwithstanding, his perries would be among the first I would point anyone to — be they reader or friend. And I can’t think of anyone who promotes perry, and particularly pear trees, on twitter with more enthusiasm than Barry does his local trees in Schefflenz.
It’s always a joy to hear Barry talk about perry, and I’m so glad that he’s done so for our spotlight series here.
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
Barry: Barry Masterson, Irish living in Germany since 2008. I work in GIS but somehow ended up owning a small orchard and started selling cider in 2019 under the name Kertelreiter. A very tiny agricultural side-business that is a labour of love more than anything.
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
Barry: It just kind of happened. I’d made a perry, or maybe rather a pear cider as it was pure dessert pears, in 2018, but with the purpose of getting it distilled. But as I got access to some big old perry pear trees dotted around the countryside, I think I was destined to make perry, and 2019, the year we started selling, was when I made a first proper perry with really tannic fruit, and it’s all been downhill since then. Perry has taken over my affections, and if I could just make perry, I’d be quite happy with that.
CR: Tell us about where you are. Its connection to perry and pear trees. The landscape (perhaps even the terroir!) and any local perry culture (or lack thereof).
Barry: I’m in the northern part of the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the southern half of Germany. Just north of what was (possibly still is) the second-biggest German cider-producing region. Perry doesn’t seem to have been a thing locally, at least I’ve not spoken to any older people with living memory of making perry, but the place is scattered with perry pear trees, some up to a couple of hundred years old. And some of them are varieties that were renowned for making good pear wine, so it feels almost bizarre that there was no living tradition, unlike with cider or Most. But in living memory they were used as an addition to cider, to bring in tannins, and as described in books from a couple of centuries ago, were an important crop for farmers, as they were used as a feed for pigs, as a source of sugar for households, including using them to make syrup. But that’s all long gone now.
However, I keep searching for historical descriptions of German perry, as I know it existed. There are plenty of volumes that describe the making of it, preferred varieties, etc, but very little about the culture of it, how widespread it was, who was drinking it. And to me, that kind of information is really important, as it’s a window on the people too. Perry doesn’t exist in a vacuum after all. I’ve recently been reading about a fascinating old perry culture, littered with tales form farmers and folklorists over in the Rhineland Palatinate that I need to go investigate in person. I was told there is an old map that indicates a region over there as a Birnenwein/Perry region, which as an erstwhile surveyor and cartographer, is almost a dream come true!
The landscape where we are is characterised by low rolling hills on a limestone base. We’re just a few kilometres from the western edge of the Odenwald, where sandstone takes over. The pear trees we use are scattered over quite a wide area. Grapes used to be grown locally, and there are still limestone terraces buried in woods nearby, but phylloxera put an end to that, and they never recovered.
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.
The most common variety found in our area, perhaps 70% of all the big pear trees, seem to be Schweizer Wasserbirne. I wouldn’t say it’s the best, but it usually crops very well and the pears produce masses of juice. Lowish tannin, decent enough sugars, it makes a pleasant, light, refreshing perry.
We’re lucky to have varieties like Bayerische Weinbirne and Oberösterreicher Weinbirne which on their own produce lovely, vinous perries (as the names suggest), and the latter forms a base for many of our blends. Then there are the likes of Luxenburger Mostbirne and Kirchensaller Mostbirne that add a wallop of tannins, but also really juicy, solid fruit flavours. Great fun to play with. This year we got access to what I believe is Welsche Bratbirne, which I am very excited to try out as a single variety perry. We have access to many more that I have not been able to identify yet.
I think my favourites are probably the Oberösterreicher, as it’s just brought so much to the perries we’ve made over the past three years. And then maybe the Luxemburger Mostbirne, as it is so pretty, yes so brutal. Oh, can I have a third? An unidentified tree that I call the “Helden Tree”. Someday I’ll find out what it is, but in the meantime, it makes a really wonderful, earthy perry.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Barry: Dry perry, I think more in the English style, from what I’ve been told. I tend to let it be for 6 to 9 months, not doing anything until I am ready to bottle, which often means in-press blended batches can be somewhat surprising. Usually nice surprises!
If I can get enough of a specific variety I will do single variety, but as we forage a lot of trees, many are random, unrepeatable mixes.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Barry: Harvesting is really hard work, as the trees we use are usually massive, and often solitary trees on the edge of fields. This means we have to visit the trees quite frequently once they start falling, to gather them up as soon as we can. Especially the earlier varieties as they tend not to keep well. As we’re also quite fussy with the fruit we use, a lot get discarded after falling from a great height and just smashing on the ground. They’re just too tall to shake anything down in quantity.
Then of course there is the problem everyone has with pears, that some have a window of just a few days where they are ideal for pressing, so when you have a couple of dozen varieties in boxes, you just need to keep monitoring the state of the fruit and pressing whenever you can. I like the really late, hard varieties, as they make the most relaxed perry!
In terms of selling, I guess nobody here really knows the term perry, but the German translation, Birnenwein, or Birnenperlwein in our case, is easily understood, and that makes people curious.
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Barry: I’ve written about this before on Cider Review, and I think I probably bang on about perry pear trees way too much on Twitter, but I just think they are amazing trees. I’m in awe of those old varieties that were being written about 400 or more years ago, when they were already so renowned for making amazing perry. And then they seemed to be forgotten. It beggars belief, that such a wonderful drink can have had such highs and lows based on the vagaries of taste and fashion. I much much prefer drinking perry to cider, and I much much prefer making it, though it is harder, as I feel I am doing something useful to help preserve varieties and bring perry to people who’ve never had the privilege.
And I think as a drink, it has such range! There are often debates on the Twittersphere about whether cider is wine, or its own sperate entity, but at least in terms of complexity and range, perry has so much more to offer than people think, and I think has even closer parallels with wine than people might think, or wish. I mean, there’s a reason the English wanted perry to be the national wine back in the 17th century, and they weren’t wrong in their assessment of the possibilities of the humble perry pear.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Barry: As a maker, that it will do unexpected things, just as you think it’s perfect. Pears are arseholes, after all!
I think I also get frustrated when I think of how much has been lost around our region, and Germany in general, after the 1950s, when modernisation of farming methods left no room for the great big perry pear trees that formerly lined most trackways and fields across the southern region. A lot of traditions were lost.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Barry: I really like Flammkuchen (tarte flambée if you are French) with perry. The cream cheese, the onions, the mildly smokey lardons… It’s just perfect. Also with cider! But I find my varieties of dry, tannic perry go great with more robust dishes, or spicy food. Any time.
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
Barry: I often just hand someone a glass and watch them. My wife, for example, doesn’t like cider, but she loves perry. I think often it’s the naturally occurring residual sugar, the rich flavours, and the complex structure that just makes it so appealing.
If I had to say something, I tell them they can try one of the rarest drinks around, made locally. The prospect of trying something so special will move most people for a sip. After that the perry is doing the talking and the flavour will usually keep them hooked!
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Would you ask a parent who their favourite child is? I’ll whisper it… It depends, every year is a bit different. 2019 was Levitation. 2020 was *insert chef’s kiss emoji*. 2021… I’ve not finished bottling the 2021 perries yet, but I think Levitation 2021 so far. To me its our flagship perry, and it’s one where I try to keep the blend consistent, but sometimes I need to substitute one of the varieties if the crop has been poor.
Other makers… I need to try so much more! But quite hard to get English perry here now. I can’t pick one, so I’ll try one from a few different countries: Bordelet Poiré Authentique, 1785 Cider’s Perry Reserve, and Ross-on-Wye’s Thorn SVP, all quite different from another too.