I’m often guilty of considering perry pear trees in Britain to be the sole preserve of the Three Counties.
This isn’t, of course, the case. We recently spoke to the Brennan brothers about the orchard of Yellow Huffcaps they harvest from in Cheshire, and there are mentions of perry pear trees in the Eastern Counties (albeit with admissions that they are rare) which date back centuries.
Today we’re chatting to a maker who have the unusual distinction of belonging to two separate counties, neither of which is historically renowned for perry.
Blue Barrel (so named for the colour of the cask head on their first ever oak barrel, and not — as I had previously believed — for the near-ubiquitous plastic vats used by so many cideries) were formerly a Nottingham maker. But last season they moved to Cambridgeshire, where they have continued to make cider and perry. Nottingham remains in their hearts though, so Emma and Leo have decided to carry on harvesting and pressing Nottinghamshire fruit.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed their creations on this site in the past, with Chris offering a very favourable review of their Colwick Perry 2019 during last year’s Perry Month. Since they were one of the makers pouring at this year’s Ross on Wye Festival I had the chance to try their latest creations, which were similarly impressive. So I thought I’d send them over our spotlight series questions, and their answers are recorded below.
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
Blue Barrel: We tasted first our first real perry at Broome Farm, a Blakeney Red if I recall, it was this that sparked our interest in making perry. We then found that there was an abundance of wild pears dotted around the city planted ornamentally on streets and public spaces. We found the wild pear had similar traits to the perry pears & have since come across a few perry pear trees in gardens and orchards.
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).
Blue Barrel: Our cider and perry making journey began in Nottingham, which is not exactly famous for its cider and perry, although it is the home of the Bramley apple so there are apple connections!
Terroir wise we have found an old orchard with some really ancient perry pear trees in Nottinghamshire which we are lucky to have access to. Contrast that with us scrabbling around for wild pears found on industrial estates in Nottingham city centre, I think you could say the terroir is somewhat varied.
And of course, our perry pear trees which we’ve planted in Cambridgeshire on our own orchard where we are now based.
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.
Blue Barrel: We work a lot with wild pears, they’re like the crab apple of the pear world. They are small, sharp, astringent, sometimes bitter and generally high in sugar. They are a nightmare to pick as they’re often in urban environments, so we have to time it right and pick before the city council contract mowers get them.
Contrast this with the rural orchard we pick from which has 200 yr old perry pear trees which are a joy to work with.
The varieties in the Nottinghamshire orchard are Brandy and Thorn & a couple of unknown varieties.
Our favourite is Thorn, we love the floral, elderflower, zesty lemony aromatics that the Thorn perry can bring. We’ve also been making some delicious single variety Butt perry, a sharp naturally sweet Pet Nat perry which is cropping well this year on our own orchard 10 years on.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Blue Barrel: We generally make traditional still perry which is either bottled or sold in bag in box. Although due to a shy crop last year we will be focusing more on our bottled range this year.
We’ve started to trial out SV perries in small batches and Pet Nat perries. This year we will be launching our Pet Nat Wild Pear perry which we’re excited about.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Blue Barrel: Growing, they say you plant pears for your heirs. When we planted our orchard in Oakington in 2012 we put in some perry pear trees, but it’ll be a good few years till we get a big crop off them. We’ve planted our favourite perry pears on Kirchensaller rootstock to grow as standards & interplanted these with perry pears on quince rootstock for a catch crop before the standards really start cropping.
The wild pears we harvest as mentioned have their issues mainly due to location & high levels of everything -tartness, soft and hard tannins, sugar and pectin levels. This leads to excessive pectin/ tannin deposits and requires multiple rackings & lots of waiting! (sometimes 2+ years)
One of the main challenges is despite being one of England’s most historic and cultural drinks, perry is still not that recognised or available.
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Blue Barrel: We love pear trees. They are so beautiful and majestic, live up to 200-300 years, support a myriad of wildlife and produce gigantic crops. One tree we know in an orchard produces about a tonne of fruit on a good year.
Also, a sparkling dry perry rivals any champagne in our opinion.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Blue Barrel: It’s unpredictable! We’ve had a barrel of perry for going on 3 years now and it refuses to clear!
It’s misunderstood, despite being one of the best drinks you can drink, most people have never heard of it or don’t know what it is.
I’m not sure Babysham or Lambrini did it any favours.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Blue Barrel: Cheese! A dry Thorn perry with Ragstone goats cheese or a Wild Pear Perry paired with Cambridge Blue.
To toast at Christmas or sip on a hot Summers day. Any time is good for perry!
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
Blue Barrel: I love telling drinkers about how amazing perry is for the environment, that by drinking this drink steeped in history you are supporting the preservation of ancient trees and all the wildlife that they harbour. That perry is like champagne but a fraction of the cost and better in flavour.
If you like fine wine then you should really try perry.
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Blue Barrel: Our sparkling Colwick Perry. We only make small batches and it disappears pretty quickly.
This year our single variety Butt perry and our Thorn perry are two we are proud of, we’ve never made enough to sell it nationally though, some of it barely makes it off the premises but we have plans for some releases next year.
We’ve loved the Bartestree perries that we’ve tried recently and a particular favourite is the Blakeney Red from Ross Cider.
Credit (and thanks) to Kathryn Edwards for all photos except the lead image.