Kertelreiter is available to buy in the UK!
Kertelreiter is available to buy in the UK!
As developments within the small corner of the cider-and-perryverse I inhabit go, this is a significant one. I first tasted Kertelreiter’s products around two and a half years ago, when Barry Masterson was good enough to send me a box of his ciders and cider-quince co-ferments. I thought two of them were very good and three of them were exceptional and I have waited impatiently and — I assumed — perpetually in vain, ever since.
Much has changed in the world of cider and perry generally and the world of Kertelreiter in particular since then. Barry has become far more pear-centric in both content and creation (partially the result of fruit availability, but also, I suspect, in where his heart truly lies). His drinks have gone from strength to strength, so far as this taster is concerned, he has become such a central figure within the UK cider and perry twitter community — assuming twitter still exists at the time of posting — that it is difficult sometimes to remember that he and his products are based in Germany and, not least, he has become a semi-regular contributor to this website.
That last point is worth dwelling on for a moment, as it throws up a potential source of critical compromise to this review. I have got to know Barry pretty well, in a digital sense at least, and consider him a good friend to whom my house and bottle collection would be thrown open were he ever to visit these shores. That, in and of itself, could be counted as compromising — I know plenty of critics who feel one should never be on close terms with those whose products one critiques, though personally I suspect this to be an inevitability if one doesn’t choose to remain anonymous. But whilst I would also describe myself as similarly close to a great many cidermakers now, they don’t write for my blog. James still has yet to release his Chapel Sider creations on a commercial basis, so I’ve not had to consider the ethical question of their being reviewed in these pages, but I think it’s fairly clear that they probably shouldn’t. So am I on reasonable ground reviewing these?
It should be said that Barry himself has been scrupulous to a fault in his efforts to maintain the ethical line and avoid any potential creations of bias. Whenever I am sent samples it is on the clear understanding that I should pull no punches in my assessment of them. Indeed I find that generally true of all producers who send samples directly, as opposed to through PR companies; whilst I don’t imagine anyone is excited by the prospect of an unfavourable review, I get the impression that most producers value honest, constructive feedback over unmerited gushing. Certainly I can only think of one or two instances across the 500+ ciders and perries that I have reviewed when criticism on my part has been met by angry words from the producer. (To me, at any rate — behind closed doors my likeness might be pinned to any number of dartboards, though I wouldn’t imagine for a moment that my words are important enough for that.)
Anyway, all just a long-winded way of offering up transparency to you, the reader. Especially given that Kertelreiter’s new availability on UK shores means a higher likelihood that positive words here might compel a purchase from the Cider Review audience. (Our readership in Germany is actually pretty decent, but unsurprisingly some way behind our UK numbers).
Rather than continuing this rumination on the ramifications of my writing them up, how about a quick look at what the new availability of Kertelreiter on these shores actually signifies? Not just a defiance by a small producer of the brain-mangling logistics inculcated by Brexit (honestly, what good has come of it?) but a triumph of determination, hard work and of the belief in a joined up world of cider and perry.
Kertelreiter doesn’t make much. I imagine that Barry could easily sell out in his home market and avoid the complicated red tape of exporting to the UK in the process. He’s certainly not after big growth — he’s often sung the virtues of the small producer both on twitter and on this website.
But Barry, more than any other producer outside of these shores, feel s a part of the fabric that stitches the UK cider community. Almost uniquely for a German maker he is an active part of cider twitter. (Like French producers, and indeed producers anywhere besides the UK, most German makers seem to prefer instagram, which may have been prescient of them). Barry may not need to be a part of the UK’s cider community, or to get his ciders and perries into glasses in these parts. But it feels as though he has long wanted to.
Long ago, long before social media platforms, there was a general awareness of cider and perry from other parts of the world. The Herefordshire Pomona talks of wall trellising methods devised by French academics, and touches on the cultures of cider and perry making both in Europe and America. Barry himself has written on the exchanged letters between Switzerland and England that led to his quest for the pear producing ‘the most superlative perry that the world has ever seen’.
There is far, far more to be gained from a joined up world of cider and perry than there is from remaining in our little isolated communities dotted around the globe. The USA’s 2021 edition of their annual CiderCon exemplified that; an opportunity for makers, drinkers and writers to come digitally together, share knowledge, experience and thoughts and communally learn from all of it. Yann Gilles, who we recently interviewed in these pages, talked of not having had much experience of the global cider and perry scene. He has since just finished a visit to Australia, where he has had the opportunity to share his own vast experience of French cidermaking and gain fresh understanding from an entirely new perspective.
I have long been struck by the pronounced differences between the three dominant cultures in the world of perry: those of the Three Counties, Domfront and Mostviertel. Not only in the pears grown and utilised in each culture, but by how markedly distinct each region’s aimed-for styles and flavours are. The British perry drinker has virtually no mileage for the taste of Domfront poiré or Mostviertel’s birnenmost; the liquids are all but alien to those being bottled on these shores. Similarly there is no answer to, for instance, Ross on Wye’s Flakey Bark, in Normandy or Austria.
Without an international hivemind, we wouldn’t be able to taste pommeau or poireau in Britain, and I would never have come across Mostello (please, please, please can someone import some, incidentally). Barry’s own International Perry Pear Project would be an impossibility and they wouldn’t be growing Butt Pear in the Finger Lakes. The web of global connections is what will ultimately give perry its best chance to grow a broader audience, and those connections become most tangible when we converse in a global forum and when bottles are opened outside of their home shores. Barry understands this implicitly, and Kertelreiter’s availability here is proof of it. Lovers of cider and particularly perry in the UK stand to benefit significantly, and enormous thanks particularly to James Clay and Sons for bringing Barry’s wares to us.
On which note: to the bottles. I should flag that these were samples — yet more potential bias — and that I’m not sure all were in the shipment that has made its way over. Nonetheless, we press on.
First up is a 2021 reprise of the 1806 Spiced Perry, based, as the name suggests, on an old recipe dating back to that year. Ascent of the Nine 2021 is a blend of pears from 9 trees, whilst Levitation is as close as Barry comes to a flagship perry, previous vintages of which have been reviewed here and here. Helden is the only 2020 in our quintet, from one single unidentified tree, whilst Slipstream is alleged as an especially dry perry; an in-press blend of pears with 20% Bittenfelder apples.
Whilst not yet on digital shelves, my information is that Fram Ferment, Cat in the Glass, House of Trembling Madness, The Epicurean, The Old Bookshop, Beer Zoo and Cornelius Beer and Wine will have stock, and should probably start advertising it within the next week. So, pending reviews below, keep your eyes peeled.
But let’s taste them first, shall we?
Kertelreiter 1806 Spiced Perry 2021 – review
How I served: ‘Cellar temperature’
Appearance: Hazy peach. Sparkling.
On the nose: Spicy! More so, from memory, than the previous edition. Rather dry spices – lots of clove influence. Cinnamon bark? Coriander seed? The elderflower and base perry offer lift and crisp, aromatic refreshment – just a touch of florals and pink citrus. Very nice, but perhaps a touch heavy on the spices?
In the mouth: Very dry and very spicy arrival. Almost austere; certainly what I’d consider an extreme delivery, though softens a little with warmth — I would recommend no colder than cellar temperature.Some very nice pear fruit and tannins, though those tannins do add to the firmness and intensity. The spices lend a pronounced impression of woodiness which the juiciness just about counters. That juiciness opens as the drink continues to warm and takes on a lovely peachy inflection. This could and should age nicely.
In a nutshell: A riotous spice bomb, which offers much to love, but may be a little austere for some drinkers in its current state of youth.
Kertelreiter The Ascent of the Nine 2021 – review
How I served: As above.
Appearance: Pale gold with the lightest blush. Light fizz.
On the nose: Soft and delicate, but detailed and whistle-clean, as per every Kertelreiter I’ve tasted. Very floral — petals warmed in the sun, daisies. Subtle pear and a blush of satsuma. Rounded, but with just a little mineral, petrichor edge. A touch of baking spice. Totally faultless, per usual, though perhaps slightly down on intensity compared to some Kertelreiter noses?
In the mouth: A ripe, full delivery, still very blossomy-floral but very juicy — more so than the nose led me to expect. Pear-forward, with white peach and even little touches of red berry. Good blending here. Some nice, lightly-grippy, ripe but not at all coarse or astringent tannins bolster the body. A little lees-batonnage richness too. Mainly about those lovely florals though.
In a nutshell: A ripe, textural, floral and very tasty perry. The delicate side of Kertelreiter.
Kertelreiter Levitation 2021 – review
How I served: As above.
Appearance: As above, minus the blush.
On the nose: Oh now, there’s a perry nose. Perfectly ripe and clear and fresh, but oozing the complexity of good blending. Juicy melons and pear and stone fruit beside a good whack of elderflower, green pear skin and lime. Orchard, hedgerow and rockpool in one sublime nose. A beautiful, constantly-shifting expression of fruit that sits stylistically between the last two vintages, looking back at my notes.
In the mouth: Gorgeous, full, ripe arrival that continues to blend those zesty green tones with ripe melons by the bushel (do you have bushels of melons? This does, anyway.) Glorious minerally tones and a refreshing, cleansing tannic grip that combine in a way almost reminiscent of Butt. Dry sinewy texture that coats and grips the mouth in the most wonderful way, combines with luscious, ripe fruit. Again, spotlessly fault-free. Also seems riper and richer than its 2021 vintage stablemates. Excellent fruit selection I’d wager.
In a nutshell: A benchmark Kertelreiter and perhaps my favourite Levitation to date.
Kertelreiter Helden 2020 – review
How I served: As above.
Appearance: More or less same again.
On the nose: We continue to slip through the aromatic gears — this is the most headily perfumed yet. Luxurious; pears in syrup, apricot, melon. Violets. Light kerosene and spice. Exotic green fruit, sea herbs, quince jelly and candied lemon. One of those utterly unique, no-other-drink-can-do-this perry noses. So beguiling, so hard to pin down that flavour notes don’t really do it justice, so generously aromatic.
In the mouth: The textures of these deliveries are just so, so good. A yardstick for dry perries everywhere. Soft, ripe and full, dry yet juicy. There’s a lovely bit of ripe acidity here too and a little less grippiness of tannin than the last couple which heightens the tropical blooms, exotic citrus and yellow pear flavour. Violets, yuzu, rosewater, peaches, melon and lime. More of the salty sea herbs and minerals. Sorry for the shopping list, but this brings it out of me.
In a nutshell: Exceptional. Just so complex, ripe and zesty. Honestly this reminds me a bit of the old Downside Special Reserves. Utterly brilliant.
Kertelreiter Slipstream 2021 – review
How I served: Same again.
Appearance: And same again.
On the nose: Pow! Vivid, lean, green, sherbety aromatics. White blossomy florals and candyfloss with piquant lemon. Cut grass, lime and pear skin. Earthy, slatey natural gas minerality. Vibrant, coursing with youth and full of life.
In the mouth: Gadzooks! Electric acidity. Brightest yet, alongside some seriously big, gnashy tannins. Fans of the Ross Butt Blend 2019-20 or Thorn 2019, form an orderly queue. Lemons, sherbet, cut grass, lime and big, big rainwater-on-rock. A little gooseberry and elderflower too. Pineapple, but in a tangfastic, sourmix way.
In a nutshell: Electric, vibrant, full-on perry. Right up my alley, I love it to bits, but with all that intensity it’s likely to be a crowd-splitter.
In a mirror to that first Kertelreiter quintet I ever reviewed, I like two of these and love the remaining three. Helden is possibly my pick of the crop, though I still think the Levitation is my favourite vintage of that perry yet and Slipstream is a glorious riot and the one I returned to first for a glass to drink after finishing my reviewing, which is often a telling metric.
Overall, my thoughts were that 2021 was a slightly leaner, brighter, less fulsome year than 2020 in Schefflenz, and that’s a suspicion that Barry confirmed when I let him know that I’d tasted the set. I also think *insert chef’s kiss emoji* remains my all-time favourite Kertelreiter, though a couple of these push it close.
Nonetheless, the quality on show here is more than sufficient to keep Barry comfortably in my personal top 5 or so perrymakers. I’d thoroughly recommend you buy any of the above that you can, and most of all I’m delighted to be able to advise UK readers and drinkers to do so. The world of perry continues to grow, and we are very lucky that Barry Masterson is a part of it.
Pingback: My essential case of perry and cider 2022 | Cider Review