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A tale of two brewers: perry-beer hybrids from Mills x Oliver’s and Kertelreiter

Beer and cider have an interesting relationship in the UK. For a long time, but particularly since breweries began buying cider brands around the 1960s, they have formed an uneasy union in the mind of the British drinker. No one is under any illusion that they aren’t markedly different drinks, but for the most part they are drunk in the same places — pubs — and served in the same way — pints — and thus a sense of weird connubial association has formed. To the point that most drinkers probably couldn’t tell you that the two are made through enormously dissimilar methods, but probably imagine the likes of Strongbow to be merely some sort of appley-tasting lager. Which is, of course, what the breweries originally intended.

When one digs beneath the surface of cider, of course, and uncovers the wealth of aspirational, full-juice products hidden behind the macro from-concentrates, the differences between the two drinks are thrown into stark relief. One a brewed drink using various grains and adjuncts, the other merely a matter of fermented apple juice (to which adjuncts are occasionally added). Yet once again, at least until fairly recently, full-juice cider was, for the overwhelming part, drunk in the same places and served in the same way as beer.

If cider has a funny relationship with beer, I’m not sure where to even start with perry. A drink whose flavours generally tend probably more in the direction of certain white wines than they do cider, let alone beer, and one which has always (at least to me) felt an uneasy fit served from pint glasses in pubs.

And yet almost anywhere you might expect to find perry, you will find beer too. Mainly because perry is invariably joined at the hip with cider, but nonetheless at the beer festivals, the pubs and on the shelves of bottle shops, there sits fermented pear juice next to fermented wort. What’s more, two of the world’s three major perry regions — the UK and Central Europe — boast a rich and historic beer tradition as well, and beer writers such as Pete Brown, Matthew Curtis, Lily Waite and Anthony Gladman are increasingly turning their attention and pen to perry

So perhaps it’s unsurprising, especially in the modern age of the compound drinker, that interested makers are building bridges between these two very disparate drinks. Last year we tasted a hybrid of beer and perry made by Tom Oliver in collaboration with After the Harvest, and it’s toward another Tom Oliver collaboration that our gaze is turning today.

Jonny Mills (at least to my fairly uneducated mind) is one of the most exciting brewers operating in the UK at the moment. You can find out much more about him and his work in this excellent Pellicle article by Lily Waite, but in short his brewery’s model is based as far as possible on a minimum intervention approach. Wild yeasts, ambient bacteria, spontaneous fermentation. In other words, very much the language talked by many of the aspirational cidermakers working in Britain today. So it’s almost natural that Jonny has found himself working with several of them, predominantly Tom Oliver, over the last few years.

His ‘Foxbic’ collaboration with Tom, marrying Foxwhelp juice and lees with lambic-style wort, has become legendary, and is now in its fourth iteration. But since that first creation several very different animals have followed, and last year a pair of them caught my eye in particular.

The Nachmelená Hruška bottlings, according to their labels, are an attempt to marry perry with a Czech-style pilsner, then aged in two different casks, one edition of which did a stint in casks which had formerly held Islay whisky. Being perry and whisky-literate, I’m able to conjure a few of these flavours on my mind’s palate, but Czech-style pilsner is another matter entirely. Whilst I’ve started making slightly more adventurous inroads into beer, pilsner sits a long way outside my bandwidth of personal experience. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a tasting I could just blithely forge ahead with.

I’ve long wanted to speak to Jonny on the subject of spontaneously-femented beers and especially on marrying fermented fruit drinks with brewed beer and (albeit belatedly) this pair of perry hybrids felt a good opportunity to do so. I reached out to ask whether I might pose a few questions on the subject, and he was good enough to reply in the affirmative. Our e-conversation is recorded below.

CR: For the benefit of our readers, could you introduce yourself and what you do?

Jonny: With my wife Genevieve, I run a tiny brewery called Mills Brewing in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. We make beers fermented solely using wild yeast and bacteria captured through spontaneous fermentation. Our beers ferment and mature in oak barrels for 1-5 years at ambient temperatures. Between the two of us we run all areas of the business from brewing to accounting, bottling to label design. 

CR: ‘Minimal intervention’ is a term I’m quite used to in cider and wine, for instance, but don’t see so often in beer, which often seems to be specifically defined by intervention. Could you talk me through how the influence of nature plays a role in what you do?

Jonny: We use minimal intervention to describe our approach to fermentation, maturation and bottle conditioning. In contrast to the majority of breweries, we add no lab derived yeast or bacteria at any point and we do not control the temperature of our fermentations or barrel cellars. Both of these factors act to welcome in nature, rather than fighting against it with sanitisers and climate control. As opposed to cider and wine, we have the luxury of being able to start fermentations year round, so we can play with the seasonal temperatures and their associated influence on the local microflora. Both of these have significant influence on the flavours we derive from fermentation.

CR: How did you come to start working on beer-cider hybrids? What’s the attraction?

Jonny: Mr Oliver had the idea. It just so happened he had floated an idea to make a hybrid to Pete Tiley (landlord/brewer at The Salutation Inn) at a similar time to us asking Pete if we could use his brewery kit to start making wort for Mills Brewing. Pete recommended we work together, and that led to the first incarnation of Foxbic being brewed to coincide with the 2015 Foxwhelp harvest. It was an intriguing proposition to approach making such an unknown entity. It was also exciting to be able to make something with Tom, who went on to have a significant influence on our resulting approach to fermentation and blending at Mills Brewing. Neither us or Tom had any idea if it would produce something drinkable. There wasn’t a huge amount of design that went into it. Since the fermentation was going to be akin to a lambic beer (from a brewers point of view) we decided to stick with the tried and tested wort used by lambic producers, and made a traditional lambic wort using a turbid mash to preserve starch for the wild yeast, and aged hops which have lost much of their bitterness. We hedged our bets by using different ratios of wort:juice in different barrels to give us some blending options down the line. We were slightly unimpressed by how “nice” the resulting barrels were. We thought we might make something more shocking.

CR: Are there any particular and distinct challenges about working with wort + apple vs simply brewing wort?

Jonny: We’re still working these out! Wort is fairly different to juice in its makeup of nutrients, so behaves quite differently during fermentation, maturation and bottle conditioning. Initially, the pH of wort is significantly higher than most apples, which may favour different strains of yeast and bacteria early in fermentation, leading to differences in both aromatics and mouthfeel. Wort also contains a wider variety and sugars and longer chain polysaccharides which again, influence the relative contributions to the drink by different microorganisms, particularly providing energy to yeast and bacteria to continue slowly fermenting and modifying flavours after many months/years, where perhaps a juice ferment would have finished more quickly. 

Additionally, there are differences in other vital nutrients such as free amino acids which impact yeast growth, fermentation rate and a host of aromatics, both desirable or not. Wort also has a higher protein content and hop acids, which combine to produce foam which looks great on the finished drink, but causes a lot more mess in the cellar than a juice fermentation. 

There’s also the interaction of apple tannin and wort protein, binding and removing each other in a kind of auto-fining action. We’ve noticed differences in our usual (beer vs cider) experiences all the way through to bottle conditioning too, with hybrids seeming to produce a little less SO2 than cider alone. Potentially due to yeast health at this late stage.

CR: Am I right in thinking you’ve worked with both juice and lees? How do the two behave differently in a brew?

Jonny: The biggest difference is what’s in the lees. A fresh fermentation with yeast just off the apple skins and the environment will have a hugely smaller number of yeast/bacteria cells, as well as a different ratio of saccharomyces : brettanomyces : lactic acid bacteria compared to lees. Therefore lees will produce a more rapid fermentation, but this can be in any number of different directions depending on the age of the lees. 

We’ve had some from Tom Oliver that were from a barrel that had cider in for around a year since harvest, which produced a beer that was as clean as a whistle. Minimal action from lactic acid bacteria. Then we had some from Ross-on Wye from some slightly younger barrels that had a massive influence from the lactic acid bacteria early in fermentation. I wonder if the Ross lees had been in full swing malolactic fermentation at the time we used it. 

CR: Cider and (perhaps especially) perry sit on very different points of the flavour spectrum to beer. How do you go about bringing them into a coherent marriage?

Jonny: That’s the fun. We each bring flavours to the party that the other does not usually have access to. Beer can bring bitterness, body via unfermentable carbohydrates, hop and malt aromatics. Cider brings tannin, malic acid, the ability for dryness at higher abv points. Perry brings its own unique tannin and aromatics, as well as residual sweetness and citric acid. There doesn’t seem to be a reason any of these listed traits can’t play well together given a bit of thought. We inevitably end up diluting these characteristics by blending wort and juice, but that has enabled us to produce some fairly extreme worts, knowing they will be cut with juice.  

CR: I’m particularly interested in your Nachmelená Hruška. Tell me all about it – what it is, why you wanted to do it, what the process of making it was?

Jonny: We wanted to match the delicacy of perry with that of a well made Pilsner. Tom’s right hand man Jarek is Czech, so we had to go for Czech ingredients, which would thankfully be my preference haha. We made a fairly robust wort for a Pilsner, knowing it would be diluted by the juice, with Czech grown pils malt and a large amount of Czech grown Saaz hops, which are much loved by the majority of brewers for their fine/delicate aroma. 

The wort had a calculated IBU [International Bitterness Unit for beer-illiterate souls like me – Ed] rating of 80, which is well above what would be called for if making Pilsner, but we wanted a perceptible bitterness in the finished drink and knew this would be cut by half by the juice, with more being lost during ageing. Interestingly, Saaz contains a large amount of bound thiols, which although flavourless in the hops themselves, can potentially be released by enzymes produced by wild yeast, acting to boost fruity flavours present in the perry. 

The wort and juice (a classic Oliver’s blend of perry pears) were blended into barrel to co-ferment for a relatively short 3 months, before maturing in bottle for a further 7 months before release. The short barrel time intended to limit volatile acidity and oxidative character, as we wanted this to be whistle clean.

CR: How did working with perry pears differ from working with apples? Both in terms of any production considerations and in terms of dictating the styles and flavours you were after?

Jonny: The delicacy of the pear juice was the initial driver for the recipe design, making something that would compliment and not overpower. We can throw a bit more flavour at apples. The sorbitol influence also played into the choice to use a Czech pils recipe, as these classically have a malty sweetness to balance a fairly firm bittering, which we hoped would work well together.

Production-wise, we just had to look out for the bizarre jelly-like sediment that perry can throw in the barrel or bottle. A few bottles never saw the light of day due to this sadly.

CR: Are you working on any beer-cider or beer-perry collaborations at the moment? Is there anything you can share about them?

Jonny: We always have something on the go. We have made around 10 different creations with Tom, with a couple currently in progress. Two never saw the light of day. But we never want to release something less than remarkable. There are so many different things each of us can bring to the table, so inspiration keeps coming.


Around the time I started thinking that a piece on the Mills/Olivers perry-beers might be an interesting one, I received a box of assorted treats from Barry Masterson of Germany’s Kertelreiter (and occasionally also of this website). Among the various contents was a bottle labelled ‘Rauchperry Graf’, which as far as my various disparate flavour interests go, is a simply magnificent assemblage of syllables.

I’ve written previously of my love of smoke in food and drink, and indeed in that article touched on my relatively new-found love of Rauchbier, inspired by this Pellicle article from Adrian Tierney-Jones. Interestingly, given one of the Mills-Olivers has been aged in a former Islay whisky cask, that makes us two for three on smoky-beery-perry concoctions today, but where Jonny and Tom’s found its smoke through the barrel, Barry’s smoke has come from the malt.

I first encountered Barry when he was already making cider with Kertelreiter, and so my experience of his creations has always taken a fruity direction. But long before he was captured by the pear trees of Schefflenz he was a beer blogger, brewer and much more besides. Which makes the prospect of his Rauchperry Graf all the more intriguing, but also made me think that I ought to get some background and context to this particular creation, and that it might fit neatly into this article. 

Knowing Barry to be a man after my own heart; not a person to use 100 words when 1000 will do, I didn’t really ask him any sort of structured series of questions about his beer. I simply asked for “any details regarding your beer background, transition from beer brewer/writer to perry maker, what you love about both categories, why you brought them together etc.” And, lo and behold, details were provided and are reproduced below.

Barry: From the mid 90’s, following my first visit to Germany in 1996, I’d developed a more serious interest in beer than just necking pints of Carlsberg, as I’d been doing ‘til then. This kind of coincided with a second wave of microbreweries opening in Ireland, so there was much more choice of really interesting imported beer from Belgium and other countries, and I really had fun exploring all of these with my friends. During one of our sessions in the Porterhouse in Dublin, my best friend and I decided we should start brewing, purely for fun. By then it was 2006. And the beers we made were pretty good! In 2007 I set up a website with another homebrewer, as a kind of resource and forum for homebrewers in Ireland (some years later this morphed into Beoir, the Irish beer consumers’ organisation), so I was definitely quite into it. 

I continued brewing almost monthly after we moved to Germany in 2008, and then also started blogging about beer, which continued with fairly frequent postings until we were deep into our house renovation some 4 or 5 years later, and that took all my energy (and became a second blog!). Even the brewing took a hit! But the “beer life” and brewing had been a real help in integrating into a small German village. A talking point, social lubrication, and I was often introduced as the “Irish brewer”. One of my most trusted friends here is an organic farmer who also brews, and we used to do that together, before Corona put a pause to it.

And while making cider and perry (and all the other activities that go into that throughout the year) have gradually taken over a lot of my spare time, beer is still what I generally reach for when I want a drink. I love the interplay of malt and hops! I still love trying something new from a brewer I haven’t encountered before. I love the flexibility and creativity and spontaneity you can have as a brewer, being able to think up ideas and just try them any time. I still brew when I have time, usually seasonal specials, like Elderflower Saison, or Spruce Ale, or just one of my solid pale ale recipes for something to tap in the yard for the neighbours. But it contrasts completely with the life of an orchard-based cidermaker, where you get one chance a year to make everything you can for that year. That’s not to say that you can’t be very creative or spontaneous, which I try to do with our ciders, particularly trying to bring back ideas and tastes from the past.

The Rauchperry Graf was an experiment that I had planned for over a year before I finally made it. The inspiration came from two directions, the first being one of the most ridiculous ciders I’ve ever tasted, made by a homebrewer friend in California. I’m usually in California twice a year for conferences, and there is usually a homebrewer meetup/tasting at these. And funnily enough, a good number of those homebrewers also branched out into cider in recent years. But one cider, made by Rodney Conger, literally blew my mind at the whole audacity of it. He had smoked the apples, like, all the apples he pressed, smoked on mesquite wood in his own smoker. Smoked apples! And as a lover of Rauchbier, this just absolutely thrilled me. It tasted great! When I got home I started chatting with my neighbour about the possibility of using his smoker, but for the batch size I wanted to do, it would have been very challenging. 

The second influence came from the “accidental”, or rather, unplanned graf I’d made in.. well, I think it was 2019, but it was before I’d heard the term Graf, so I thought I was doing something special (pre-mix snakebite, if you will!. Basically, I had tried fermenting a beer with our local orchard yeast, but the result was overly sweet, as we reckoned the yeast couldn’t deal with the more complex sugars in the wort. It just stopped with too much residual sugar for my liking. I left it a few more months on the chance that some other bugs in there might dry it out, but it was rock solid stable. When the 2019 apple season came, I basically topped it up with juice, so it was almost 50/50, and it started fermenting again, resulting in a very refreshing wild-fermented Graf, just with not enough hops as it hadn’t been designed that way.

So as I wanted to get smoke into a cider, but the challenge of smoking 120kg of apples was a bit much at the time, I reckoned smoked malt might help me out. And then as my true love is of course perry, I thought why not a perry graf, with smoked malt, I bet the sweetness of the beech-smoked malt and the fruitiness and tannins of my perry pears would work well together. And that’s what I made. 50% wort from 100% Weyermann Rauchmalz, 50% perry pear juice, hopped with Hallertauer Tradition. I searched to see if anyone had done the same, but I think this might be the world’s first smoked perry graf! Though I always say there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to beer and cider.


So there we have it. Two rather different concepts and approaches, and I’m not entirely convinced I’m qualified to comment on either. But I shall do my utmost to march undaunted into the tasting glass nonetheless. The Kertelreiter reads ‘Private Collection’ on the label, so I suspect it’s not on general sale. The Nachmelenà Hruškas I bought directly from Tom about a year ago, for something like £20 each. I can’t see them online at the moment, but he certainly had a few left in his shop when I last dropped by.

Mills x Oliver’s Nachmelenà Hruška – review

How I served: Chilled

Appearance: Lightly hazy gold with quickly-dissipating foam.

On the nose: Off the edges of the map. Some of the grainy, crispy character of lager (sorry if I’m talking nonsense, beer pals) but rounded and floral and fruity. The beer element has the lead, but the influence of the pear is clear. A plumpness. A juiciness. Very beguiling and utterly clean.

In the mouth: Oh yum, that’s fab. Again impeccably clean but here the tussle twixt pear and grain is more even – such that you can’t see where one ends and t’other begins. Soft orchard fruit, melon and a light twist of citrus are interlocked seamlessly with grist and grain and light toast. A gentle, savoury lift of yeast offsets it all perfectly.

In a nutshell: Note-perfect, beautifully-judged hybrid. Balance and complexity at their best.

Mills x Oliver’s Nachmelenà Hruška Islay Cask – review

How I served: Chilled

Appearance: Much of a muchness with above.

On the nose: That is extraordinary work. To take something of such delicacy and subtleties, put it in an Islay whisky cask and see its flavours embellished rather than overwhelmed is exceptional. The smoke on the nose is a trace – a wisp only, behind that spellbinding, plum, grain-pear soft, fruity lager of a nose. Just an extra strand in the complexity of its tapestry.

In the mouth: Again, beautifully judged. The orchard fruits and ripe grains aren’t interrupted, merely brushed with an earthiness and a driftwood-lanolin peat finish. Still wholly about those ingredients and the stunning interplay of crisp and juicy, fruity and toasty-malty, pilsner and pear. This is such a thoughtful, beautiful, careful, considered, balanced and flavourful hybrid.

In a nutshell: As far as beer/cider/perry hybrids go, I’ve tasted a good few and this is in best ever territory. (Or ‘favourite ever’, as I should say).

Kertelreiter Rauchperry Graf – review

How I served: Chilled but allowed to warm for half an hour or so.

Appearance: Amber. Similar foam level.

On the nose: Deeper, burlier, meatier, maltier and smokier, although the smoke is again very well-judged and subsidiary to malt and fruit. As with the Mills x Oliver’s it’s the beer that jumps out at me most, in a more earthy and autumnal manner – more cask ale (though not quite that deep) than lager (at least to my beer-illiterate palate). Robust and savoury but accented with deep pear and dried fruit.

In the mouth: Full-bodied, big-flavoured and again drier, deeper and maltier than the Mills x Olivers, with a more bittering finish. Rounded, but there’s a nice crispness here too. Pear and malt are pretty evenly matched, though I’d say malt comes out on top just about. Depth, savoury tones and fruits all intertwangling tremendously. Smoke is there, but by no means intrusive.

In a nutshell: The hearty, hearthside face of Graf with a rich, sweet, woody accent of smoke. Again it’s the care, precision and balance that really stand out. Hugely impressive work.


If this is what the marriage of beer and perry looks like then colour me all for it, and I hope they lead to further such unions galore. Interestingly, given two of them promised smokiness, I didn’t find terribly much in either – merely a trace. But I dare say an adult-and-a-bit lifetime of drinking peated whisky has tampered with my mileage for what counts as ‘smoky’. In any case, both were delicious.

In all three cases the drinks evince such care and understanding of what the ingredients are and how they will come together. Perhaps unsurprising given the reputations and output of each producer.

As Barry says, there is nothing new under the sun. Going back millennia, beers sometimes had fruits added to them to aid fermentation. Perry has been made in the same villages as beer since time immemorial. I recently learned that the first known alcoholic drink was a co-fermentation.

The world of flavour we inhabit is rich, mind-altering and well beyond any of our individual capacities to fully grasp. I have a far better understanding of the drinks I love, and am a far better taster than I otherwise would be, for delving into various of its alleyways. So here’s to perry, here’s to beer and here’s to the meeting of the twain. Here’s to tasting our way across that kaleidoscopic spectrum, and here’s to the bold, imaginative and talented producers whose work enables us to do so.

This entry was posted in: Features, perry, Reviews


In addition to my writing and editing with Cider Review I lead frequent talks and tastings and contribute to other drinks sites and magazines including jancisrobinson.com, Pellicle, Full Juice, Distilled and Burum Collective. @adamhwells on Instagram, @Adam_HWells on twitter.

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