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CraftCon Presentation: European Perry

Last week I had the privilege of speaking at CraftCon 2023 on a subject increasingly dear to my heart — European perry, specifically that of the two major continental regions: France’s Domfront and Austria’s Mostviertel.

I’m much more a writer than a speaker, and ended up typing the whole thing out to use as a bit of a comfort blanket. (I probably looked at my script far more than I should have, and apologies to those present if it turned into a bit of a monolith — just so much to say on the subject.)

Anyway, the organisers have kindly given me permission to reproduce it here, which I’ve done verbatim, bad jokes and all. Though I’ve lightly edited the bits that said ‘and now we’ll try glass number 2’ etc.

Huge thanks to the CraftCon team, particularly Albert and Lydia, for inviting me to present, and for being so supportive. (Congratulations, incidentally, on an absolutely brilliant event across the board). Also to everyone who came along and listened — I do hope I wasn’t *too* boring a presenter. Finally to Jérôme and Janice at Le Ferme de l’Yonnière and Peter and Bernadette at Haselberger, for their extraordinary generosity in sending samples over. All were hugely well received and offered a room full of perry lovers far more eloquent insights into the excitement and quality on offer in the European perry scene than my words alone could have.

Now – on with the show! (You may want a kettle on for this…)



Yes, so my name’s Adam Wells, I’m the founder, co-editor and lead features writer for a website called Cider Review, among other bit and pieces, which hopefully you already knew, since you’ve already filled in the ‘what talks you want to attend’ form.

So if you didn’t already know all that, then possibly you’re in the wrong talk. Although do feel free to stay nonetheless, as hopefully it’ll be a lot of fun.

Anyway, yes, so today we’re going to be talking about European perry, which is something I’m super excited about – as you’d hope, since I’m presenting on it. I’ll be talking for about 45 minutes and we’ll be tasting the perries at relevant times as we go, rather than doing a structured ‘tasting’. I don’t like sitting with glasses in front of me, not being allowed to get stuck in, so do go ahead with the first one, which is a traditional method perry from Haselberger in Austria — Peter and Bernadette are two of my favourite producers, and this is brand new, a multi variety blend that spent 9 months or so on lees.

Before we kick off the presentation though – all that kind of highfalutin, fancy-sounding, pooterish stuff at the start – founder, co-editor, lead features etc – it’s all basically a really polished-up version of saying ‘I blog a bit’.

So hands up – I’m a blogger, I’m an amateur, I’m an enthusiast, I’m a hobbyist. Which I’m very proud of, but what I’m not is a maker, a professional or any sort of expert. So what I’m not going to do is start telling you your business, what you should be doing, how you should be making your own perries – or ciders. I think there can be a bit of an awkward – and I guess quite hard to avoid – tendency for drinks writers in any category to take a slightly ‘well if I was a maker, I would simply do this’ which kind of makes me think of armchair football supporters talking about the way they’d easily lead England to world cup glory if only they were sitting in the manager’s dugout.

So no tips, no suggestions for redirection. This is just going to be a chat about two of the great European perrymaking cultures. The stuff they’re making, a bit about the way they’re making it — though again, I’m not a maker myself — a little bit of historical context, and the various things they’re maybe doing to promote perry and perry culture over there.

So. Obviously this is a perfect place to do this talk, because of course the Three Counties — and we ought to add Monmouthshire to this — are collectively one of the three great historic and current perry heartlands in Europe and indeed the world.

And it is certainly true that some of the best perry in the world is made in sight of May Hill.

But it is also true that some of the very best, superlative, mind-broadening and game changing perry is made not in sight of May Hill, but in sight of the hill of Domfront in Normandy. Or in sight of the Alpine foothills in Mostviertel, in Austria. And I think it is always, always, so important to not live in a vacuum, to not take an insular, isolated position, but to be curious about and aware of and inspired by the way other people are doing things in other places. It’s what’s fuelled the rise of craft beer, of wine around the world, of single malt whisky, of gin, of any drink that’s ever had a boom. It’s why cider is seeing this renaissance of quality not only in England, but in America, in the Basque Country, in Asturias, in France, in Australia, in Norway, you name it. And perry may be much smaller, less known, made in fewer places but I really think there’s an opportunity for it to benefit by doing the same.

So. A few fun facts about European perry.

Did you know that the first known reference to a drink we’d understand as perry comes from Pliny, writing in the first century AD? In fact he compares it directly to wine made from grapes – but that’s a whole other can of worms we don’t have time for right now.

Did you know that the second reference is still in ancient Rome, a couple of centuries later, including instructions on how to make it, and comments about how perry is directly affected by its terroir?

Did you know that saints are recorded as having drunk it in France over a thousand years ago?

Did you know that at the end of the thirteenth century, the most consumed drink in Bavaria was not beer, but perry?

Did you know that in the sixteenth century, French makers were writing not only about perry, but about perrykin? (A little shoutout to Little Pomona there!)

Did you know that in the seventeeth century, the very British pomologists who drove and documented Britain’s own cider and perry renaissance of the time, were pretty unanimous in agreeing that the best pear for perry was a variety from Turgovia, in Switzerland?

Did you know that a hundred years ago there were over a million pear trees for perry in Austria’s Mostviertel region?

And that sixty years ago there were nearly one and a half million in France’s Domfront?

(Which were mainly used for the production of bootlegged spirit on an absolutely mid-boggling scale. But we’ll get to that).

So perry has been a genuine, serious feature in various ways and in various places in Europe at various points through the last two thousand years. And yet now we’re in this situation where there are only three places in which it’s a really significant concern for makers. And even in those places, the average person in the pub, restaurant, at home – they’re drinking beer or wine, or possibly cider.

So what are people doing, and how are they looking to change that?

Well let’s start in France.


To a point, pear trees are grown and perry is made all over Normandy, just as it is all over the Three Counties.

But in most places, it’s the most secondary of secondary considerations — if it’s even made at all. Most of the focus is very heavily on cider, and where pear trees are grown at all, they’re mainly to add a little acid and tannin to the juice and cider that’s put aside to be distilled, so it’s preserved in the meantime.

But there’s one place where perry is not only a major consideration — it is the major consideration. Miles and miles ahead of apples and cider. Which is Domfront.

Domfront is a tiny little town and appellation in the south of Normandy, on the border with Maine. When we say ‘tiny’, we really mean it. We’re talking about 1% of Normandy’s total cider, perry, calvados output.

But it’s really very special. Because of all these pear trees.

Why pear trees here? A couple of reasons have been put about, mainly difficult to substantiate. One suggestion I’ve heard was just that pears weren’t subject to tithe under the pre-revolution ancien régime. And obviously with old agricultural methods you could plant massive, spaced-out pear trees without disrupting your corn fields. (Pretty much every tree you’ll find here is planted on tall traditional rootstocks – it’s actually part of appellation law, in fact – but we’ll come back to that too.)

But the main reason seems to be that, like the Herefordshire-Gloucestershire band around and south of May Hill, this was soil was simply reckoned to be better suited to pears than apples. Mainly deep, deep, wind-blown lœss over schist or thick clay over granite, it holds a lot of water for a long time, and that soil gets very cold. Apple trees don’t do as well here as they do in the softer, better-draining, more coastal areas of Normandy to the north. But the pear trees do just fine.

Now, although we have records of perry being made in this area that go back longer than records of perry in the three counties, the big, big, historic thing that these pear trees have been grown to facilitate is Calvados. And for hundreds of years, that’s just what they were for. On an absolutely unreal level. To give you an idea of the scale, in 1900 there were reckoned to be 100,000 distillers in Normandy. 

And Domfront was, for its size, an absolutely huge part of that. We’re talking around 176,000 hectolitres. (For context, in 2021 there were 651 hectolitres of Domfront calvados distilled). And this is just in this miniscule crumb of land where the main town’s modern population is 4,000.

And the really wild thing is that of that 176,000 hoctolitres over 90% was absolutely illegal.

I could do a whole talk entirely on the Norman and Domfront bootlegging scene of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’d love to dwell on it far longer than I have time for, but I’ll just hit you with a few interesting titbits. (Well, I think they’re interesting, and it’s my presentation so, you know, buckle in.)

The bootlegging started because this really unpopular law was passed in 1875 that meant a farmer wouldn’t be taxed on what they were making for personal consumption, but the tax on what they were actually selling was quadrupled. And this was just after a louse called phylloxera had destroyed all the cognac and armagnac vineyards, so calvados was suddenly hitting a boom time. And the number of bistros in France was doubling, so there’s massive demand for spirit too – whether it’s sold as calvados or just sold in bulk as alcohol to turn into pastis.

Obviously, all of a sudden the ‘what we’re drinking for personal consumption’ totals of distilled spirit go to seriously, seriously questionable levels, so a couple of decades later the French govenrment tightened the law so you got 10 litres for personal consumption, and everything else got taxed. And there’d be government-mandated surprise visits to your home from the tax man to check everything was above board.

Just like there were in this country when Lord Bute passed the Cider Bill a couple of hundred years before, there were obviously massive riots. Remember I said the population of Domfront today was 4,000? Well they had protests of around 15,000 in some of the villages around there. And that’s not just 15,000 people – that’s 15,000 distillers. For which, in Normandy, read: 15,000 pissed off farmers.

So you get taxmen being kidnapped, all sorts of rioting, the army gets sent in, and the government backs down on the surprise visits. But the super-high tax continues.

So obviously the smuggling does as well. And Domfront’s a perfect place from it. Miles from any big towns, loads of sunken lanes. You’d have barrels being hidden in hay bales, in children’s bedrooms, stuffed into wall cavities. And this smuggling carries on right through the 20th century. Jérôme Forget, whose perry we’re drinking, said that when he moved to his farm, there were still these men in little vans driving around the country with tanks of contraband spirit in the back – and this is 1996.

One chap got inspired by James Bond films and had his Citroen customised so that it could billow smoke, drop nails, change registration plates on the fly and carry 400 litres of spirit. When he was finally caught he turned out to have a whole fleet of these cars – and this was in 1987!

And ironically, it was all this massive-scale illegal distillation that kept the trees alive. Once we’re midway through the 20th century, and agriculture mechanises, and the farmers get paid to grub up their trees to plant corn, and the contraband calvados market starts dipping, it’s goodnight to the pear trees. So from nearly a million and a half in the 1960s, we’re down to just 100,000 in the late 1990s.

So there you go, there’s a big lesson to take away from this talk – if you want to prosper and preserve pear trees, what you really need to do is get into big-time bootlegging. 

But actually, kind of ironically, it’s law and order that stops the rot and brings in the new era of Domfront. 

Because what happens in the 90s is you get this group of producers — particularly Jérôme, who was a really key figure in it — saying: ‘we need to preserve these trees, we need to preserve the landscape, and we really need to preserve the amazing drinks they make’.

Because perry, at this point, has started to be made again. And producers are talking about how they can elevate it from just the farm worker’s drink that’s a refresher whilst they make the spirit, into this serious, quality product in its own right, with High Value Perception. 

And so they have this drink, and they want it to be protected and enshrined. And in France, the top level of achieving that is with something called an AOP, which stands for Appellation d’Origine Protegée.

Now AOPs are super common in wine, but you also find them for all sorts of produce – cheese, cider, even ducks. And they’re a really strict protected designation of origin that says if you want to call something, say, champagne, then it has to be made in the champagne region, the grapes have to be grown there, and they have to be specific varieties of grapes, and they have to be made into champagne in a particular way. And it’s all very legally set out, but also strictly, strictly protected. I can’t make a sparkling, traditional method wine from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes in Burgundy or England or the USA and call it champagne, and I can’t make say a still red wine from shiraz grapes in the champagne region and label it champagne AOP. There are all sorts of rules, and they’re upheld at a government level. And actually one of the rules for the first wine AOP, which was châteauneuf du pape is that you’re not allowed to land UFOs in the AOP. So ET and Darth Vader and all the rest of them obviously have to land in Gigondas or Provence or Minervois or wherever else.

And so the Domfront producers go after an AOP, and they get one for their calvados – Calvados Domfrontais, and they get one for their perry – Poiré Domfrontais.

So what do you need to achieve AOP perry status in Domfront? Well the pears have to be grown and made into perry within the appellation. They have to be harvested from the floor. They have to be 100% full juice, the pears have to hit a particular level of sugar ripeness. The perries have to be naturally sparkling, so we’re talking pét nat. And they’ll be independently evaluated to make

And at least 40% of every Poiré Domfrontais has to be made from a particular variety – the Plant de Blanc. And in fact, it’s far more common for them to be at least 60% Plant de Blanc, and single varieties are pretty common.

Why this particular pear? Couple of reasons. On the one hand, it’s one of the easiest to machine-harvest from the ground without turning into mush. It was also the only variety that all the producers lobbying for an AOP had a decent number of trees of. But it’s also just universally agreed to be a really, really good pear. It’s super aromatic; really fruit driven, peachy, tangerines, loads of ripe florals. It’s very versatile as a pear – it ripens through a long window and actually tastes pretty great at varying levels of ripeness. One farm, Pacory, does an ‘early harvest’ and a ‘late harvest’, both single variety Plant de Blancs. And they’re both great. And it doesn’t have too much acidity or tannin, but it has enough to be balanced. And it ages really well too, though often doesn’t get the chance to, as is always the way with cider and perry!

If you want to start tasting the third glass when you’re ready!

So that’s kind of what’s driven the Domfront AOP – and most Domfront perries, and indeed most French perries more broadly for the last 20 years or so. And it’s given a certain status to the trees and to the perry – it carries a weight and a gravitas in public perception, and it establishes this baseline of quality and legal requirement, and absolute transparency, which I think we can all agree is a pretty good thing.

The flipside of course is that quite a lot can be a bit similar – made in the same way, mainly with the same varieties. And often to a fairly similar, fairly high level of sweetness. And this gives rise to some generalisations – which are sometimes fair and sometimes demonstrably nonsense – that all French perry just tastes the same.

So what we’ve just had, the first one, is Jérôme’s Domfrontais AOP. But what we’ve got in the next glass is something a bit different. It’s still full juice, still pears that are fully ripe and have fallen, still traditional old trees, naturally sparkling yarda yarda. But what we’ve got here is a not-quite-single variety predominantly made from a pear called Vinot.

There’s another irony here, which is that despite having been the real driving force behind establishing the AOP, Jérôme’s one of the key people in Domfront making perries that sit outside it. His mentality being that it’s boring to just stick to the same thing, to the same main pear. And also, that there are so many great pears in the region, and if the focus is just on one, there’s a risk of losing some of that diversity.

So he’s working with all these different varieties, putting other pears to the fore. There’s Fossey, which is one of his favourites, has this amazing really distinctive rose petal scent. There’s De Fer, which is this nightmare, super late harvest, super low yielding, teeny-tiny fruits that you’re picking up in winter rain and cold – but has this incredible, almost caramelly richness. And there’s Vinot, which – and I don’t want to put thoughts into your head – is this zingy, zesty, bright green and yellow, lemon and lime delight. On its own we’re kind of in Thorn levels of acidity and green flavours, but here it’s blended with a little Pomera and (I think!) a little Plant de Blanc maybe. And that just softens and rounds the acidity a touch whilst really letting the Vinot be the star.

Any other thoughts?

So this, to me, is kind of emblematic of what’s happening in France’s cider and perry culture generally, and Domfront in particular. It’s been going on across almost exactly the same period as we’ve had our kind of rethink cider movement, and it’s a real spirit of ‘hey, we have this incredible tradition, and these time-honoured styles, and our AOPs and quality designations – but you know what, that doesn’t have to be the whole story’. And producers, especially, but not only younger producers, are taking all those lessons and all that built up historic experience and wisdom and taking a kind of ‘learn the rules before you break them’ approach.

So we’re getting these different varieties. Not just from Jérôme, but people like Jacques Perritaz, a Swiss producer who’s come to the region for its perry pear bounty and gone ‘hey, look at all these other incredible pears, let’s use them’. You’ve got people like Simon, the youngest generation at Pacory, going and working overseas, and saying ‘hey, traditional method – let’s give that a go’. ‘Hey, ice cider … what if we made an ice perry?’ So sticking to the classic fruits, to so much of traditional care and practice, but evolving within that.

You’ve got people planting Domfront varieties in other parts of Normandy, going ‘hey, lets plant pears for perry, not just for spirit’. You’ve got winemakers paying attention in places like the Loire, and perrymakers saying ‘you know what, this may not be wine, it may be its own drink, with its own flavours and characters and challenges and history – but does that mean we can’t learn from wine? Does that mean we can’t look at what makers of other fruit-fermented drinks are doing, take a few lessons away, share a few lessons of our own? Of course it doesn’t’. 

So you’ve got co-fermentations, you’ve got people experimenting with drier styles, people lending in different herbs and spices. Just playing, refining, seeing what flavours they can find.

And moving on to glass number four now. What they’ve still got is this absolutely incredible, invaluable tradition of distillation. And calvados of course, indeed cider brandy, deserves a whole seminar in itself, but what you also have is the ability to bring two drinks together – pressed juice and fruit spirit – and make what’s called a mistelle.

And the really famous mistelle is pommeau, which specifically is one part calvados to two parts apple juice. And Pommeau de Normandie is its own AOP, which means there are rules again on making, and ageing and all the rest of it. But unlike with Calvados and with Perry, Domfront doesn’t have its own individual AOP. So if you find a bottle labelled ‘pommeau’ in Domfront, it’ll be very apple-forward, even though there’ll be pears in some of the spirit.

But what producers are doing is saying ‘well, hey, we might not be able to label it pommeau, but what’s stopping us from making a mistelle that blends pear juice with pear-forward Calvados Domfrontais? And that’s exactly what a lot of them have done, and that’s what we’re drinking here. And there are no laws on how long it has to be in oak for, for instance, or what pears to use. So there’s a lot of freedom. You get some that have been aged, and others that are all about pure, fresh, lively juiciness. And what the pear have that pommeau typically doesn’t is a bit of acidity, and sometimes a bit more tannin, which just gives it this elegance and freshness and vibrancy, as well as letting it age well.

So pear mistelle is a really, really beautiful drink I think, and there are producers in Domfront making absolutely amazing iterations, like Pacory and Le Cave Normande and Thérèse Gérard. And some of them are honeyed and nutty and almost madeira-like, and some of them, like Jérôme’s here are just pure booming fruit baskets. And I love them all. And part of me thinks ‘you know what, these are so good, they deserve to be so well-known – why don’t they have their own AOP. And then another part thinks ‘well, they’ve come out of this creative drive outside of appellation regulations, and that’s a brilliant thing too, and I hope that’s not stifled’.

But I think they really sum up modern French cider and perry to me – which is this force of creativity, and this really focussed drive for quality, all underpinned by a historic tradition and a real respect for fruit and tree and land. And tradition is a word, as Helen and Rachel will be talking about tomorrow, that comes with so much baggage, but I think France’s great producers are increasingly using theirs in the very best of ways – as this base from which to build, rather than just as a shackle to an imagined, rose-tinted point in some nostalgic past that never really happened as we’d like to believe, and wasn’t half as good anyway.

I really think some of the best pear drinks in the world are coming out of Domfront at the moment, and what’s super exciting is that their creativity’s really just starting. They’ve got this amazing AOP, this hugely recognisable and brilliant style that just acts as a great flagpole around which all this other stuff, traditional methods, ice perries, pear mistelles, co-fementations and everything else can build. And they’re tying it all in to broader gastronomy – what foods does it go with, what are the different times and occasions it can be drunk? And they’re sharing knowledge, experience, putting incredible exhibitions like CidrExpo together. It’s extraordinarily energising and exciting.

Can you tell I’m a bit of a fan?

So yes. France. Normandy. Domfront. A place to keep a watchful eye on. But I’m aware time’s ticking, so we’re hopping on a virtual train and we’re heading east, through Germany or Switzerland, skirting the north of the Alps, winding along the southern banks of the shimmering Danube and ending up in a place called Mostviertel in Austria. And tyhis is where perry obsession reaches a whole other level. ‘Most’ literally means juice, and can also mean cider or perry – and in this case it’s very much perry, and they’ve gone and actually named the place after it. 


A bit of history first, because I love history, and once again – my talk, my rules. But whilst I’m being a bit self-indulgent you can crack on with glass number 5, which is a still, dry, single variety Dorschbirne from Peter and Bernadette.

In fact the three we have left are all still, dry single varieties, so by all means hop from glass to glass, and we’ll have a bit of a compare and contrast chat with a bit of context in a minute.

Perry’s history here is also long, long, long. In 1240 we have a Bavarian bard in the Austrian court singing at least one song about perry. As a little flavour, three translated lines – with thanks to Barry Masterson at Kertelreiter, go:

She served me with the jug

That my throat would again be clear and bright.

Her perry drank I likewise quickly: therefore she was glad.

Which I dare say sound far catchier when sung and when in the original old or middle Germanic.

Then in the 16th century we’ve got a chap called Philipp Jakob Grünthaler installing a ‘paumgarten’ in his castle for the cultivation of specific fruits, collecting scions of specific pears from Upper Austria and grafting them in the Mostviertel region for the first time — including varieties such as the Landlbirne that are still in use today. And which, indeed, you have in glass number 6.

As an aside, I think it’s quite interesting that it’s in the 16th and 17th centuries that you have this almost simultaneous awakening of interest in cider and perry across so much of Europe – Austria, the Germanic states, England, France, Switzerland. And we know there was contact between them, because the English are writing takes on French stuff, and certainly exchanging letters with people in Switzerland. So I wonder if there was almost a sort of proto-rethink cider movement going on, and I’d love someone like Elizabeth to investigate!

Anyway, the real impetus for Austrian perry comes a couple of hundred years later. First of all you have a package of agricultural reforms led by the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century, which includes planting pear trees along all the municipal roads in Austria. And that’s followed up by her son, Joseph II, who even awards medals to anyone who plants 100 pear trees.

So that kind of lays the ground, and then in 1848 you have a perfect storm of the emancipation of the peasantry in 1848, giving farmers greater land ownership rights, and then the building of a rail network that passes through Mostviertel and goes on to Vienna. And remember at the time, Vienna is the heart of a huge Austro-Hungarian empire.

So all these perrymakers are suddenly able to own their own land, make their own perry, and immediately they get access to this massive, massive thirsty market.

So perry absolutely booms. Trees planted like no tomorrow, perry made by the millions of gallons, and the farmers become so wealthy that they’re able to build these huge, iconic farmhouses with grand open square courtyards in the centre. They’re called ‘vierkanters’, which literally means ‘four corners’, and they’re still all over Mostviertel today. And everyone you meet over there still trots out the line ‘the Most built these houses’. Absolutely everyone.

Anyway, by 1938 the collective orchard in just the Amstetten district, which is – I think – the main district in Mostviertel, around the town of Amstetten, had a collective perry pear orchard of over a million trees.

Actually, funny story about Amstetten (or a story, anyway) – when I was there in September I was having a drink at the bar – a weißbier, because they had no perry on, for the same sad reason you don’t find perry at many bars in Herefordshire or Normandy – and I had three separate people come up an express absolute bewilderment at what I was doing there. ‘What the hell are you doing in Amstetten’ was the third guy’s line, and when I told him I was here for Birnenmost – which is the German/Austrian term for perry, he seemed even more weirded out, if anything. And that kind of tells its own story too.

But so they had these million trees, but at this point the Austro-Hungarian empire has collapsed, and obviously, late 1930s, we’re at a particular point in European history, and then post ‘40s, we have a similar story to perry across the rest of Europe, which is mechanisation of agriculture, planting of grain crops – corn again, over here, which my translator told me was mainly for feeding the pigs – perry trees get grubbed up, people move to cities and start drinking beer and the rot sets in.

And there was quite a lot of rot. Since it was barely selling, barely cared about, totally behind beer and wine, best practice in the cellar really dropped. So we get to the eighties and a lot of peoples’ opinion of Austrian perry is of something acetic and oxidised and generally faulty. A long way from a quality product.

When we reach the 90s, kind of similarly to what happened in Domfront, we get this reset of mentality. A few producers, holding out against the decimation of the pear trees, not wanting to see this drink and the culture around it disappear – sorry, whenever I talk about the survival of perry cultures it always ends up sounding like the village in Asterix the Gaul holding out against invaders – a few producers decide to set a quality line.

I think it’s kind of interesting that in 1985 Austrian wine had had to have a major rethink, when it was discovered that lots of wineries were adding a chemical also found in antifreeze. So the wineries had this reputation to rebuild, and they rebuilt it with all sorts of excellent wines, but especially with their pristine, elegant, dry, minerally, citrusy, floral Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners.

And I think that’s especially interesting, because of all perrymaking countires – even including France – it’s Austria’s that I think has the clearest eye on its local winemaking tradition.

You’ll have your own thoughts on the drinks we’re tasting of course, but to my mind those characteristics of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner that I just talked about – that minerality, green fruit, acidity, clarity, purity, florality – they’re real hallmarks of Austrian perry.

So these producers thought: we need a baseline of quality. We need to establish a requisite level that the consumer will be happy with, which will offer a clean, tasty, pure, fault-free, characterful expression of our fruit.

So what does that mean? It means absolute cleanliness in the perry farm – mainly stainless steel, oak or other woods are pretty uncommon. Pitched yeast, mainly white wine yeasts, tend to be the norm, as is extended maceration and fairly tight filtration to avoid cloudiness and sediment. It’s all very controlled – which I know some of the makers and drinkers here will think is keeping perry on too tight a rein, but meant that they had this starting point for a clean, quality, approachable product. And that the rot had been overhauled.

Key to this was establishing a real union of perrymakers in the region. Making sure that even if people were making slightly different things in slightly different ways, things like quality and cleanliness and standards of production were being upheld. And of course, a healthy union of thought and voice would mean that perry could be championed and advocated for in a really connected way.

So in 2003 two makers, Toni Distelberger and Sepp Zeiner, who are real, dynamic forces of nature – came up with this idea of the Mostbarons. They’d be a group of people from the region dedicated to promoting Most and Most culture, advocating for it, helping with tourism, sharing ideas and inspiration and knowledge and experience and helping to really push perry quality to be as good as it could be.

What’s really clever though about the Mostbarons is that is isn’t just makers. It’s really critical that the group includes people like bartenders, sommeliers, restaurateurs, marketers. It’s about anyone who can push perry in all the ways and places where it’s drunk, who can showcase its versatility as a drink to have on its own, or with food, people who can bring a whole array of different skills to the table, all pooling them into this collective effort.

And the results have been great. Trees are still a long way down from those 1938 numbers, but Mostviertel has the largest unbroken stretch of pear trees in Europe – numbering maybe 300,000. Lots of them growing in rows along the sides of fields, since they used t double up as boundary markers (a maker said to me this was partially because unscrupulous farmers could shift a boundary stone a few metres, but you can’t really do that with a tree!) Tourism is up, makers are up, numbers of people drinking it are up.

Maybe because of the Mostbarons, at least within their own country, promotion of Most and Mostculture is something Austria is really good at. And I think it really helps that unlike the Three Counties and Normandy, here there is a region whose absolute primary focus is on perry. There’s a little bit of cider here, but it’s absolutely second fiddle. There are pears everywhere. Giant pears on roundabouts, bars of soap in the shape of pears, lace curtain pears, door handles, plates, ceiling decorations, gate posts. You name it, they’ve carved it into the shape of a pear.

And I think more than anywhere else in the world, Austria and Mostviertel really stitch perry into the wider fabric of their regional gastronomy. I think in cider and perry terms the only place I’ve seen that really interweaves cider and perry into broader cuisine to the same degree is the Basque Country with their cider. And actually in a way it’s not dissimilar. There’s a tradition in Austria of seasonal taverns called heuriger which open at certain times of the year and can only sell that farm’s own produce. So in Mostviertel that’s perry, but critically it isn’t only perry. It’s dried fruit, which is a big part of the local cuisine, it’s cheeses, it’s hams, these incredible boards of charcuterie. 

And people go to the heuriger for the whole lot. It’s not just a perry place for perry drinkers – it’s this wider world of food and drink in which perry is a central cog, and which forms a bigger gateway to get people in a place where they might drink it. When I spoke to our interpreter, Nikolina, who was sort of around my age (I might be being slightly generous to myself there) I asked whether younger people – yes, thank you, I am a younger person – drank much perry, and she said ‘not really at bars – but they’d drink it at the heuriger’. So it’s about creating these spaces in which perry really fits, but not necessarily relying on perry itself to be the whole draw. Just building somewhere where people will find it and enjoy it. A softly-softly reason to drink perry, if you like.

Stylistically, white wine is definitely what the producers have their eye on. Not to say that they’re not really keen on letting the pears express themselves – they are – but they know who they’re chasing, and they know where their drinkers are. One mostbaron I met, who runs a hotel – the most pear decorations I’ve ever seen in my life, and the most glorious food and perry pairing dinner I think i’ll ever had – said it was his aim for perry sales to overtake white wine sales there. They haven’t yet, but they’re catching up, because people see it as a viable alternative, which hits a lot of preferences, but also takes them in these new and exciting flavour directions – and with lower alcohol and at a lower price. 

There’s also a lovely relaxed way that people drink perry in Austria – some of my most enjoyable moments there were sitting in taverns with a couple of sharing plates of food, perry poured into jugs – and often spritzed with sparkling water at the table, which is something they do to just reduce the alcohol a bit, give it a bit of extra fizz, lighten it up to go with the food a little bit more easily. It’s not how I’d always want my perry, but there’s a lovely easiness to it. Again, just a little ritual thing that kind of cements perry’s place at a shared table in this gastronomic world. And I think that’s really what food and drink cultures get built out of.

There’s a good mix of dry and ‘halbtrocken’ about, and there’s a real focus on varieties. But something that’s really striking is that although they have a similar number of perry pears to the UK, there’s a real prominency of a few in particular – names you just see over and over again. So it’s actually quite easy for even someone like me, who didn’t know any of them, to quite quickly get a feel for what each of these prominent pears has to say, flavour and character wise. Which then gives me a frame of reference for asking about what other pears are like.

The ‘big four’ that I just saw over and over again are two early harvest pears – Speckbirne and Stieglbirne, which are very floral, soft, melony sorts of things – not a million miles off your Blakeney Reds maybe or even your Hendre Huffcaps. And then the two big later harvest varieties, including Dorschbirne, which was our number 5 today, and a really important one, Grüner Pichlbirne, which you have there as number 7.

Grüner Pichlbirne’s actually an especially important one. Makers really love its characteristics – it’s big, full-bodied, tannic by Austrian standards (although they tend to suppress tannins a lot in Austria) and really good acidity too. But back in the day – we’re talking 150-odd years ago, people would always plant a Grüner Pichlbirne near the farmhouse because it could reliably clear up a perry that had started to go cloudy. Which I’m sure a lot of folk would agree is a pretty handy pear to have.

As I say, focus tends to be on that minerality, primary fruits – often green citrus, others maybe more melony, peachy, peary. And they’re super-concentrated. Something I’ve found in Austrian perries is that they canbe quite tight flavour-wise in youth, but like great Rieslings an Grüner Veltliners they have an incredible capacity to age. Last September I was lucky enough to try some 2013s, which had just blossomed into these huge, complex bouquets, and even a 1992 which was somehow still alive and kicking 30 years on.

One final brilliant trick that the Mostbarons have played is that each year they pool the best perries any of them have made from those ‘big four’ varieties and create three ‘Mostbaron’ kind of ‘Cru’ bottlings. One from Speckbirne and Stieglbirne, one from all four, and one – Exibatur, which is my favourite, that’s Dorschbirne and Grüner Pichlbirne. And I think that idea of creating something collectively is a really unusual and thought-provoking and actually rather joyful and inspirational one. This group of super dedicated makers, coming together, championing perry together, bringing it to the collective table and actually pooling everything to physically make something together.

I think Austrian perry has absolutely phenomenal potential. I think it was really brave of them to say ‘we need to reset – we need to establish this minimum level of quality’. I think they’ve done more than any other perry region to unify, pool knowledge, focus on perry, and spread the perry advocacy load beyond makers and into different places and through different people who can reach customers in different ways.

I think you could argue that there’s a case for taking some of the ‘stabilisers’ off, taking a few risks – but you know what, that’s happening. Again there are co-fermentations, ice perries, traditional methods, Prosecco-style charmat methods. There’s a place called Farthofer, run by Joseph and Doris Farthofer, that’s partially a distillery, and whose signature product is a fortified perry – so not a mistelle where it’s juice and spirit blended, but a proper fortified perry, where fermentation has finished before spirit is added, like sherry, for something dry, or where fermentation is interrupted by the addition of spirit, like port, for something sweet. And they age these things in oak for a whopping four years, then even longer in bottle, and honestly they’re like utter, utter nectar. Genuinely some of the best drinks of any sort I’ve ever tried.

There are courses in perrymaking and perry sommelier classes. The place is buzzing with activity and it’s absolutely laser-focussed on perry. In fact right now, as I’m speaking to you, there’s a conference going on in Mostviertel – an international conference on perry and perry pears, specifically so that makers in Austria can look out at what people are doing around the world, and so that makers and drinkers around the world can see what’s going on in Mostviertel. There’s nowhere quite like this place in the world I think, and if you get the chance you should absolutely go there, even just to get asked what the hell you’re doing by a bloke in an Amstetten pub. It’s inspirational, it really is.


Ok. And breathe. I’ve gone on a fair bit there, which will surprise absolutely no one who’s ever read anything on Cider Review.  

But the point is that there is so much to know about perry in Austria and France, and I think it’s so, so important that we talk about it and we engage with it, and we see what makers and advocates are doing over there. Just as it’s vitally important that those cultures keep an eye on English perry, and don’t just write it off as babycham and lambrini. 

Perry’s such a rare and fragile and wonderful drink and I think that all of us – everyone around the world who makes it and drinks it and cares about it – has a hugely important role to play in collectively building this world for new drinkers to find and be welcomed into. It absolutely blew my mind, when I first tasted a great English perry, that something as good and complex and ancient and compelling and fascinating as this was made just down the M4 from where I live. And when I tasted my first French poiré, my first Austrian Birnenmost, I had the same reaction – these drinks deserve to be known.

And gradually, it’s happening. We’ve talked about Domfront and Mostviertel today, but what about Germany, with makers like Barry at Kertelreiter and Patrick and Wendy at 1785 doing such amazing things – often with varieties that can reach out and touch those from Austria and Switzerland. What about Elegast in the Netherlands, making beautiful perries from dessert and cooking fruit? Jacques Perritaz, we’ve mentioned, but there’s his Swiss operation, Le Cidrerie du Vulcain, where he’s not only making delicious drinks, but growing this library orchard of endangered Swiss pears. What about Wales – so many unbelievable makers there. Or people like the Killahora Orchards team and Mark at Cockagee in Ireland. Or America – such a dynamic, exciting place, and with a surprisingly old perry culture, particularly in the North East, but now being revived around the country by people like Eve’s, people like South Hill, people like Dragon’s Head, or Blossom Barn in Oregon, or Raging Cider in California who are even looking across the border at pear orchards in Mexico and saying ‘hey, is there something we can do with that fruit?’

And then here, at home, perry isn’t just about the Three Counties and Monmouthshire any more. There’s the Eastern Counties, there’s Cornwall, Somerset. There are people making it in Nottinghamshire, in Merseyside, in Scotland, in Lancashire.

The world of perry is bigger and better and brighter than I think any of us know, and I think it has this chance to join up, to be bigger still, to share knowledge and ideas and experience. To really champion perry not just as an add-on, a sidekick, an also-ran to cider but as its own extraordinary, unique, marvellous, magical drink.

So whether you’re a maker or a drinker, let’s keep making, keep drinking, keep talking – and let’s keep looking over the international fence to see what everyone else is doing to.

Cheers to perry – thanks so much for listening.

A final thanks to James and Helen who provided most of the pics included.

This entry was posted in: Features, perry


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.

1 Comment

  1. Alison Taffs says

    This was much better of a talk than Adam gives himself credit for. The passion and deep knowledge was there for all to see. It was fascinating to taste these all together. I wonder if we may see some collaborations between UK and European perry makers. That would be excellent.


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