From the enigmatic taste of Old England sold at the farm-gate by the flagon, to frothy mini-bottles of Babycham for girls who wanna have fun, perry/pear cider has an identity crisis of Katie Price/Jordan proportions. While perry is a small-scale, hand-crafted, occasionally wine-like drink, dating from the Norman conquest, “pear cider” is a marketing term dating all the way back to, oh, 1995?
Cider in general has been selling so well that the big boys like Bulmers, Gaymers and Magners have been enticed into launching pear ciders of their own.
What's the difference between pear cider and perry?
Perry and pear cider are both made from pears, but the similarities end there. Pear cider can be made with imported pear juice or concentrate and can even include some apple juice.
The main difference between perry and pear cider is that pear cider can use juice from edible pear varieties like Conference. "Proper" perry, on the other hand, is made only from proper perry pears.
Pears used for perry
There are about 120 named varieties, with evocative names like Mumblehead, Black Huffcap and the most commonly used, Blakeney Red, many of which now survive only as single trees on isolated farms.
Hard, fibrous and inedible, they could only be used for banging in nails, if it wasn’t for the delectable drink they make. Perry pears are packed with dry, bitter tannins and rapier-sharp acidity yet they’re sweet at the same time, and it’s this delicate balance that lies behind the drink’s complexity.
Perry seldom tastes of pears, but then again wine seldom tastes of grapes. And like perry, wine is not made from fruit grown for the table, like sweet Thompson Seedless grapes, but from tannic wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Apple cider and perry compared
Compared to the ruddy orangey glow of apple cider, perry is generally a much paler straw colour, perhaps with a greenish tinge. It tends to be more delicate than apple cider and sweeter, even stretching to citrus and tropical fruit flavours like guava and pineapple. Bottle-fermented perry becomes a light, sparkling drink that Napoleon allegedly described as "English champagne" (was he having a dig?).
Perry proper is made only in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and has been granted protected name status by the European Union. Thus, it has joined the illustrious company of Cornish clotted cream, Jersey Royal potatoes and Melton Mowbray pork pies – traditional foods deemed worthy of protection.
Try these pear ciders
Kopparberg Pear Cider
From Sweden here’s a "Marmite" pear cider – you’ll love it or hate it. It's too sweet for some, I love its over-the-top pear-drop qualities (4.5% alcohol). Available from Tesco and Waitrose.
Westons Premium Organic Pear Cider
A crisp, sharp pear cider with a finely poised sweet/sour balance. Hints of green apple and zesty lemon (6%). Available from Morrisons.
Waitrose Vintage English Perry
Made from perry pears, this tastes ripe, round and fruity with a well-balanced bitter/sweet finish. Very moreish (8%). Available from Waitrose.
Oliver’s Three Counties Medium-Dry Perry
Proper perry from a traditional producer. It’s pale and perfectly still with dry, wine-like qualities. Tastes grown-up with a firm bitter/sweet balance and rustic authenticity (6%). Available online.