You couldn’t make Gin Pear up. Seriously. It couldn’t belong to any other drink but perry. Just imagine a fruit that offers both the most intricate, detailed, delicate of laser-etched flavours; whose pale hues reveal themselves in the glass like the tinkling of ice cubes in crystal, like the chuckling of mountain brooks, like wind whispering through winter pines, like green herbs and juniper berries, like the peal of silver bells and the tap of a fork against the finest, spiderweb-thin wine glass.
Then imagine you take this delicate, ethereal, fine-boned ice sculpture of a drink and lend it a hatchet of tannin. Honestly, only perry. And, really, only Gin Pear.
Gin is unmissable in the orchard, its clusters of brilliant, lime-green, ping-pong ball fruits, red-flushed at full ripeness, swarming and writhing up the branches of the tree like bunches of grapes on a vine. A Gloucestershire fruit, growing heavily — comparatively at least — around Newent, but popping up in orchards around the country.
Perrymakers love it. When I ask them their favourite varieties, Gin is frequently the first, or close to the first mentioned. Cwm Maddoc called it out during our spotlight series, and it was mentioned by Bartestree’s Dave Matthews. In our interview last year it was one of the three given special mention by Tom Oliver:
‘I’m a big fan of Gin,’ he said. ‘I love the subtlety of it. I like the way it works really well on its own or blends really well. And it brings character to everything that it goes in with. It brings some nice acidity in the sense that I don’t think you ever need too much acidity with perry, but acidity is good. I love the sort of translucence of it – it’s wonderfully clear – and its nuances. It’s a great pear. And it’s round – relatively – it hangs in great bunches, it’s a relatively easy one to harvest and it can be harvested by hand or by machine with no detriment at all.’
But no one is as overt in their love for Gin Pear as Albert Johnson.
A couple of years ago, still feeling my way into the characteristics of varieties, I messaged Albert asking him what his own favourite was. The response was emphatic:
‘Gin is just objectively the best pear. It has the best name. The best appearance. The best leaves. The best growing characteristics. The best cropping tendencies. The best aroma. The best flavour. The cleanest palate.’ One message later: ‘Forgot the best colour too.’
Albert’s love of Gin Pear is partially handed down; shared with his dad Mike, who had planted ten trees over twenty years ago. When I visit Ross on Wye, I always visit the perry pear orchard — one of the most visually striking pieces of agricultural land I can think of — and would make a particular point of goggling at those tall, tall trees against the far hedge, their branches clustered with glowing green. An old-label bottle of Ross on Wye Gin Perry, drunk a few years ago, when I probably didn’t fully appreciate it, sits on my kitchen surface-top as a vase for dried flowers. I wish I had another.
A couple of weeks ago, in our perrymaker spotlight on Ross, Albert shared another thing Gin pear was best at: catching fireblight, the voracious, incurable bacterial disease ripping through the pear trees and perry orchards of the Three Counties, and which seems to have accelerated in the past couple of years. The day after we published that spotlight piece, Albert sent me a picture of a tree they’d had to cut down. By the end of this year there will be no Gin pear trees left at Ross on Wye. ‘We may never make Gin perry again’, Albert told me.
As I wrote a year ago in an article on Thorn, selfishness over the little things that make our small, individual lives better is often the most keenly-felt spur to action. The recent flaring up of fireblight, it seems, has been caused in no small part by the huge and accelerated climactic changes of the past few years. Just as the harvests are getting earlier, and the acidity of Thorn pears is gradually dropping, so the most vulnerable varieties — like Gin, like Blakeney Red, like Oldfield, the full trio of Tom Oliver’s cited favourites from last year in fact — find themselves increasingly threatened, not only by the direct results of climate breakdown but by the improved conditions for destructive infection this breakdown facilitates.
Gin pear, it need not be reminded, was critically endangered as it was. The world is not rich in perry pear trees, the government is entirely uninterested in protecting those that exist, landowners on May Hill are increasingly grubbing them up in favour of horses and every year storms take down a few of the oldest; the ancient Holmer at Ross on Wye, the largest of the Betty Prossers harvested by Cwm Maddoc.
The flavours of perry are unique, idiosyncratic and spellbinding, but few more so than those of good Gin pear. As Albert darkly pondered, will we still be able to drink Gin pear perry in 2050? Frankly: will we even still be drinking it in 2030?
For these trees, and the glorious drink they produce, to have even a ghost of a chance, they have to be of proven economic viability. For this government, of all governments, to even consider offering any sort of protection, there has to be some sort of fiscal incentive. For new producers and growers to consider planting something that takes so long to bear fruit, there has to be clear commercial impetus. We have to drink perry, we have to trumpet perry, not just as an add-on to cider, not simply as one single drink, but as its own, complex, multifaceted, multiflavoured, endlessly fascinating and head-spinningly delicious category.
The worth needs to be seen, the importance of trees and varieties needs to be felt, and at present too much of that responsibility is falling on makers alone. Just as you would never offer a wine to someone with the words ’you’ll like this, it’s made from grapes,’ it is the responsibility of every drinker to unravel the full glorious tapestry of perry to those new to it. To underscore its value. To demonstrate just how much there is that could be lost. And only then might we still be drinking Gin Pear Perry a few decades down the line.
We’ve only tasted two single variety Gins in these annals before; the 2019 from Ross on Wye and the 2020 Cwm Maddoc, both of which appeared — perhaps slightly hidden — in our Perry Month roundup last year. Today I’ve a quartet to taste; three Herefordians and a Gloucestershire.
Opening our lineup is Castle Wood Press, from Rob Castle on May Hill itself. I bought my bottle at the Ross on Wye Festival; one of the very few places you can ever buy Rob’s wares, unless you happen to visit or live near him in Gloucestershire. 500mls set me back something like £3.50.
Bartestree we know and love, but we’ve never tried their Gin here, so we’re amending that with their 2021 vintage. I bought my bottle at Middle Farm for about £10, which is the same price you’ll find it listed at on Cat in the Glass. Also £10 on Cat in the Glass is the 2021 vintage of Cwm Maddoc’s single variety, the successor to the vintage I tried last year.
Finally, a retasting of Ross on Wye’s 2019 vintage. Partially to see how it has developed in the year since I last tried it, and partially because this may be the last time I ever taste single variety Ross on Wye Gin Pear; a combination of maker and variety that has had such impact on my own personal journey through perry, made from trees I have sat under and gawped at so many many times, and never now will again. For £9.50 from Cat in the Glass, you can do the same, though my bottle was another from Middle Farm, who I suspect are pretty much allergic to e-commerce.
Castle Wood Press Gin Pear — review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Cloudy lemonade, some flaky sediment and fizz.
On the nose: On the intensely herbal end of the Gin spectrum, but in a Mediterranean way; oregano and rosemary – fresh and dried. Lime skin and a little juniper. Even a bit of lime pickle. A touch of sea minerals too. Manages to be both delicate yet aromatically intense.
In the mouth: Bright, detailed, with a starburst of upfront, tangy green and yellow citrus before a grip of tannin leads back to the nighttime herb garden and the kitchen racks of dried oregano. Bitter lemon. Pronounced juniper. Fresh lime juice – in flavour rather than in the level of its acidity, which I would say is just a little above medium. Dry.
In a nutshell: Detailed and delicious. A perry for drinking in some Palermo citrus grove with the waft of sea and herb garden around you.
Bartestree Gin Pear Perry 2021 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Pearlescent pale lemon-green. Lively mousse.
On the nose: Juicier, fatter aromas than the Castle Wood; more overt pear character – in that it smells like a freshly-pressed Gin pear. Green skins, grass, nettle and rainwater. Very ‘English countryside after a downpour’. Soulful stuff.
In the mouth: Again a very juicy palate; fleshy, just a whisper off-dry and with a lovely in-mouth perfume. Ripe green pear, hedgerow, a dash of honeydew and white flower and a prickle of herbs. Not necessarily the most archetypally ‘Ginny’ Gin, but very delicious. Acidity and tannin are both very mild.
In a nutshell: A lovely, soft take on Gin Pear that I feel would meet heavily with Chris’ approval.
Cwm Maddoc Gin Pear 2021 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Similar to Bartestree, maybe just a smidge clearer and with just a light prickle of fizz.
On the nose: Beautiful, delicate, precise and whistle-clean Gin nose – extremely varietally typical, though perhaps the least aromatically intense so far. Lime, bright gree pear, pine needle, juniper. Sweeter tones of green fruit pastilles, fresh grass. A nose of simple, elegant beauty and clarity.
In the mouth: The sweetest yet, though balanced by fine acidity, stunning freshness and elegance. Feels almost Domfrontais in style, cleanness, finesse and mouthfeel, though going in a green and herbal direction in the inflection of its fruit, rather than Domfront’s more tropical/citrus tones. Follows the nose very closely with perhaps an increased emphasis on green pear and florals.
In a nutshell: A beautiful, delicate, utterly clean Gin perry worthy of time and attention over a long, lazy afternoon.
Ross on Wye Gin Pear 2019 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Deepest yet – almost mid-gold – with a spritz of fizz.
On the nose: The most intense of our quartet, and absolutely loaded with ripe lime. Lime peel, lime leaf, lime flesh, lime chewits. Big notes of pine needle and juniper too; Gin at its most chest-thumping. Fresh oregano. A wisp of gunflint minerality. The slight reduction found last year has resolved entirely. Incredibly concentrated, poised and precise despite its aromatic intensity. Epic Gin nose. Love it.
In the mouth: Even more full-on in arrival. This is definitely ‘Ross does Gin’ — every ounce of structure and flavour wrung out of the pear. Bright green citrus, pine needle so clear and intense that it feels they’ve been crushed for oil – almost pine resin. More green chewits, bitter lemon, juniper berries. Astonishing vibrancy, clarity and intensity of character for this pear. Brilliant fresh acidity and big, grippy tannins beneath the juiciness. All but dry. If Bartestree’s was ‘Gin nodding towards Hendre Huffcap’, this is almost going in a ‘Gin a la Thorn direction’. But that’s crazy talk: it’s just full-throttle Gin.
In a nutshell: Full-on Gin in every respect and absolutely gorgeous. A tribute to a remarkable pear.
Well, it’s one of the great perry pear varieties in the hands of four of the best perry producers, so it’s hardly surprising that we have four perries which come with my recommendation. Cwm Maddoc for delicacy and precision, Bartestree for juiciness, Castle Wood Press for Mediterranean vibes and Ross on Wye for sheer intensity of Gin-iness. No real shocks here, just an observation that Nicky Kong or some other retailer really ought to pop over to Rob’s at some point, as once a year is far too infrequent an opportunity to buy perry of Castle Wood Press’s quality.
The main take home is that nothing in the world; no perry, no other fruit, offers quite the same flavour and textural experience as Gin Pear. If we’re talking favourite English pears, it probably completes my own quartet of favourite varieties, alongside Thorn, Flakey Bark and Butt. In short, it is too valuable a treasure to be lost. I hope that all lovers of perry — indeed of interesting drinks, of flavour — take the chance to try it and to champion it whilst we still can.
I’ve followed the heart-rending reports of fireblight decimating perry orchards. Touch wood, I haven’t seen any evidence of it over here in East Lindsey (Lincolnshire). I was mulling over what to plant in some spare space here at Hoe Hill Orchard, so you’ve inspired me to order four Gin and four Butt trees, so let’s hope for the best. It’s a small gesture, but when multiplied over a wider geographical area it may help. I don’t know of any perry pear trees in my area, so they may have a fighting chance, who knows? The only way of finding out is to plant them and see what happens. Hopefully I’ll be able to make some perry out of them before I’m dead!
So pleased to hear that you’ve been inspired to plant Gin and Butt in your orchards and here’s hoping they’ll prove marvellous additions. I think you’re right that a good geographical spread may be key, but it definitely pays to be vigilant — my parents were given a potted pear tree for their 60th which managed to catch fireblight up on Merseyside, with no other pear trees really anywhere near. It’s voracious stuff.
Very best wishes though and thanks so much for taking the time to read and leave a comment.
Another amazing piece. Hearing about all this fire blight is gut wrenching. Me and Claire both love Gin too!
Thanks Mike. It’s really shocking, but hopefully with producers all over the country like yourselves working with it, it’ll be spread far enough to gain good protection. Always appreciate you reading and taking the time to feed back. Best of luck with your harvest this year.