Features, perry
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The book of perry

I’m going to come right out with it: a bit of an announcement for Ridiculously Good Perry Monday, if you like. (And, as it happens, my 200th post on Cider Review.) I’m trying to write a book about perry, and if it’s any good by the time I’m finished I’ll try to self-publish it.

I’ve wanted to write a book since I was five years old. I’ve always loved writing in every form, from the fantastical escapism of stories and plays, to the construction and reason of essays, the cultivation of personal tone of voice through first person articles and even the craft and skill of effective sales copy.

But the real dream has always been a book. A tangible, printed, weighty thing wrung out of my own brain, with a bright and colourful cover wrung out of someone else’s. I could think, when I was younger, of no more marvellous thing in the world.

In the last few years the dream has shifted its aspect slightly. Like, I dare say, anyone who has ever picked up a pen in anger, I tell myself from time to time that a novel will one day burst forth — indeed I wrote a manuscript in the winter of 2020 and have got precisely nowhere in having it picked up. But the real ambition, probably since 2017 or so, has been a book about drinks. I’ve had an idea or two, and occasionally I’ve idly daydreamed of being invited to pitch something. But the notion of self-publication, until now, seemed too complicated and too scary to indulge on top of work, normal life, blogging, plays and everything else.

So what changed, why perry and why now?

Perry, as a drink, has never to my knowledge been the subject of a book in its own right. There have been books written about the study and cultivation of perry pears, and almost every book ever written on cider — still not all that many — contains a chapter’s-worth of cursory nod towards the fermented pear. But that’s about it. As far as the drinker is concerned, perry’s status as a minor sidekick to cider is enshrined in the law (or lore) of available literature.

As we near the end of 2022, this state of affairs seems ever less defensible. Perry has seen a revolution in the last decade, and in the last couple of years that revolution has become almost an explosion. Producers like Ross on Wye, among the most dedicated makers in the country — if not the world — talk about not being able to press enough to satisfy demand. Here in the U.K. I can easily name 50-odd perrymakers just off the top of my head. People like Tom Oliver and Eric Bordelet enjoy international cult status. Pear tree plantings in Austria and France are accelerating, and producers in countries not normally associated with perry are producing more and more impressive bottlings. Look at Killahora Orchards in Ireland, or Eve’s in New York State. The Australian Cider Awards have a category dedicated solely to méthode traditionnelle perry for goodness’ sake. In fact, they have two.

All of this, naturally, is underpinned by an ever-more-vocal chorus of perry devotees around the world. It’s nearly two years since we sold out an online ‘Perry Special’ edition of Manchester Cider Club. Cardiff Cider Club has since followed suit, and Gabe Cook and Tom Oliver packed out the London Cider House too. In September this year our second edition of Perry Month became our biggest ever month on Cider Review both by individual visitors and overall clicks. Perry, as someone once wisely commented on twitter, is ascending.

What’s more, as perry has developed a more prominent light of its own, it has consistently challenged that which we believed to be understood, or has thrown out checks to the generalisations that are often made about this drink. Almost every account of perry suggests it to be a featherlight, wispy, delicate thing. But what about Flakey Bark? What about Butt? What about any number of the full-bodied, tannic perries being bottled by the likes of Kertelreiter, Ross on Wye and little Pomona to name but three? What about deep, booming fortified poireaux and mostello?

It’s commonly suggested that the best are made in sight of May Hill. But what about Domfront in Normandy? What about Mostviertel in Austria? What about the likes of the superlative perries from Cornwall’s Gould or Devon’s Bollhayes and Find & Foster?

It’s sometimes suggested that perry is invariably sweet — it isn’t. Or that pear trees don’t like growing in orchards — they do. We hear that they aren’t meant to age, but they can — superbly. And we constantly hear that they’re a laxative — that’s not entirely true either.

Perry might be grown in the same orchards and pressed by the same makers as cider, but make no mistake: these are two utterly dissimilar drinks. If anything the character and flavours of perry cleave closer to wine than they do cider, but in truth perry isn’t all that much like wine on the whole either. It is very understandable that perry has been given this close connubial association in books, and indeed on websites, dedicated to cider, but it has meant that the full story of this remarkable drink has never really been told.

I’ve tinkered with the idea a few times in the past, but a couple of major pieces always felt missing. I found some of the old resources hard to come by, for instance, and my knowledge of the huge, vibrant perry scene in Austria — one of the world’s three great perry regions — was sketchy at best. This year I have been able to fill in those gaps: a visit to Mostviertel in September was an inestimable boost to my knowledge and understanding of that region’s perry and gave me an invaluable contact book to draw on. And a few weeks later a very generous soul who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a copy of Luckwill and Pollard’s ‘Perry Pears’; probably the single greatest historical resource on perry that exists in English.

So it’s time to have a go. I’ve talked enough and tasted enough and now, I think, is as good a time as any to start setting it all down into words. I’ve sent the pitch in a couple of directions with no results so far, but I don’t want to sit on my thumbs any longer. As of last week I’ve finished my plan and have started writing. I’m 12,000 words in and I hope to have a first draft more or less done by Christmas.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. Attempting a book and the world of self-publication is all new territory for me — and without existing books on the subject I’m well off the edge of the map on my content too. It still seems complicated and it still seems very scary. I dare say I’ll be posting a little less frequently on Cider Review for a while, though I’ve a handful of articles to trickle through the next few weeks, and if you’ll indulge a few pieces like this it might be a useful brain distraction to record my trials, tribulations, process and progress here from time to time. Any and all waving and cheering from the sidelines will be, as ever, immensely appreciated.

Perry is too complex, too fascinating, too individual, too international and too delicious to simply exist as a walk-on-role in the cider show. It deserves its own limelight. It deserves its own book. So I’m going to try to write it, and I hope you’ll read it if I do.

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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.

6 Comments

    • Mike+Shorland says

      Brilliant! A great topic. And I know you will do it justice. 12,000 words in! Congratulations.

      Like

      • Cheers Mike. Slower going this week, but we’ll get there!
        Hope your pressing season has gone well. Can we look forward to any Rull perry this vintage?
        Best wishes
        Adam

        Like

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