Bit of a mea culpa, this one. I meant to get today’s pair of perries written up for our September Perry Month coverage — indeed I wrote the tasting notes for both in the first Monday of September, but then it didn’t happen.
Why? Lots of reasons. By miles my busiest month of the year, for one, between daily coverage on the site, ridiculous times at work, visiting Austria (not complaining, you understand), working Whisky Live in Paris (still not complaining) and rehearsing a play three times a week on top of that. Not to mention we were so inundated with responses to our Perrymaker Spotlight series (including from both of today’s producers) that we rather ran out of spare days.
Mainly though, I was just short an angle. I’ve moaned about this particular niche problem before; something I really want to review and write about, but which doesn’t necessarily bolt itself on to the topic I want to babble on about for a thousand words or so. Generally resulting in that cider or perry sitting accusingly on the shelf, throwing judging looks my way as I cover xyz other thing that more conveniently feeds whatever cidery narrative has just popped into my head.
But there is much that connects these two seemingly disparate creations. Both are dry, full-juice perries made predominantly with perry pears — and, intriguingly with perry pears grown outside the traditional heartland of the Three Counties. What’s more, both come from areas to which I have a personal connection — the place I grew up and the place I went to University.
Brennan’s have not appeared on this website nearly as much as their quality deserves. So often the way — so many ciders and perries, so few of us scribbling about them. They are one of the very few cidermakers operating out of Merseyside, and the only maker, so far as I’m aware, whose cidery sits on an army base and requires a pass to get into. I visited them back in December 2019, loved everything I tried, mentioned them in one of my very first articles and have been guilty of overlooking them (at least in writing) ever since. Interestingly, and marvellously, theirs is, to date, the most-read of our perrymaker spotlights; no mean feat when you consider the huge range of makers we’ve worked with.
Blue Barrel, similarly, are worthy of more column inches than they’ve received. An East Midlands operation — a region that seems to be increasingly dynamic, and which probably deserves a whole spotlight to itself — they began life in Nottingham working with community orchards and are now based in Cambridgeshire, but make cider and perry with fruit from both counties. I thoroughly enjoyed the trio of their ciders I tasted last year and Chris was similarly enamoured of their Colwick perry.
Another interesting link between the two producers and the perries I have lined up today is that both makers tend to use 500ml bottles, yet have packaged these in sharing, wine-sized 750s. Which begs a few interesting questions: is the 750 being used, in this instance, as a marker of special quality and significance? Or is it simply symbolic of the increasing trend towards the format that we have seen in the last few years?
There might even be a third answer: whilst cider is almost indelibly linked to the pub in the mind of the British consumer, I have generally felt that perry seems rather more ill-at-ease in that setting. Not to say that I’ve not drunk perry in the pub, but it seems, at least stylistically, to be at least just as close to wine as it is to cider; perhaps even closer. There’s an interesting article to be written, I think, on ‘perry’s place’, be it pub or table or both, but perhaps the 750s deployed in these two instances are indicative of a drink intended to be sipped slowly, from wine glasses, with food. An attempt to convey a mood, encourage a setting?
Or perhaps they’re just bigger bottles, and it’s as simple as that.
Something of a nothingy preamble there, for which apologies; not much more than a few piecemeal musings really. Let’s see if the producers can make up for my shortcomings. Brennan’s Woodstock Perry 2020 is a blend of Yellow Huffcap perry pears with Conference dessert pears, whilst Blue Barrel’s ‘Perry Dry’ is a single variety of an unidentified wild pear.
You can buy the Brennan’s for a remarkably reasonable £10 a bottle from Cat in the Glass (3 left at the time of writing) but at present I can’t see the Blue Barrel on sale anywhere. I dare say if you still fancied one after my writeup you could drop them a line directly here. [Ed – since writing this piece I’ve learned they’re currently out of stock, but they might be able to direct you to more] I bought my bottle directly from them at the recent Ross on Wye Cider & Perry Festival, where for full disclosure I was given a bottle of the Brennan’s.
Blue Barrel ‘Perry Dry’ – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: Young champagne, fizz and all.
On the nose: A lovely fresh aroma which manages the tricky double act of delicacy and complexity. Lemon rind and russety pear skin. Light lime juice and elderflower. A little saline dough. A touch of sherbet. It’s fine, elegant stuff.
In the mouth: The intensity is upped on the palate, those velcro-rip perry tannins wrapped in a juicy body and big, ripe flavour. The pear fruit is a little plumper, the citrus less lemon and more tangerine. The minerality is still there though, and that touch of dough and pear skin. Retains its brightness though acidity is second fiddle to tannin, structurally.
In a nutshell: A really cracking dry perry – one of those that simply couldn’t be any other drink. Lovely work.
Brennan’s Woodstock Perry 2020 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: A little deeper. Bright, but very gentle mousse.
On the nose: Big aromatics. Honeys and vanilla; almost a little polished wood. If I didn’t know better I’d wonder if a cask was involved. Lemon, but of the deep, exotic sort – almost lemon incense. As it warms the fruit becomes more fulsome, tending towards apricots. Some greenness too; young wood, nettles. A cracking, complex perry nose.
In the mouth: Outstanding delivery. Just a brush of tannin and a spritz of fizz meets a lovely, restrained freshness of acidity, full body and big, bold fruit. Huge honey-lemon note. A Fino-esque flutter of almond. Ripe juicy pear, apricot, vanilla and that near-wood-incence exoticism. Actually has a lot in common with certain headier champagne profiles in a certain way. Super-fresh, balanced despite its size and packed with gorgeous, complex flavour and texture.
In a nutshell: A Merseyside masterpiece. Probably the best thing I’ve had from Brennan’s. Buy it.
I feel even more remiss in not giving these two operations more airtime on Cider Review now. Two truly beautiful perries, deploying mostly perry pear fruit, mostly grown hundreds of miles from May Hill, yet easily able to rub shoulders with many of the better examples from the Three Counties. Merseyside, Nottinghamshire and Cambridgeshire locals should take sharp note.
Both, as you can tell, come heavily recommended, but my personal favourite has to be the Brennan’s. Who would have thought that perry pears even grew on Merseyside, let alone made such a truly delicious perry?
More proof that the modern cider and perry drinker needs their eye on the whole country, not just the south west or the eastern counties. Oh look — I found an angle after all.