Perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears, similar to the way cider is made from apples. It has been common for centuries in England, particularly in the Three Counties (Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire); it is also made in parts of South Wales and France, especially Normandy and Anjou.
In more recent years, commercial perry has also been referred to as "pear cider", but some organisations (such as CAMRA) do not accept this as a name for the traditional drink. The National Association of Cider Makers, on the other hand, disagrees, insisting that the terms perry and pear cider are interchangeable. An over twenty-fold increase of sales of industrially manufactured "pear cider" produced from often imported concentrate makes the matter especially contentious.
As with cider apples, special pear cultivars are used to make Perry. Perry pears are thought to be descended from wild hybrids, known as wildings, between the cultivated pear Pyrus communis subsp. communis, brought to northern Europe by the Romans, and the now-rare wild pear Pyrus communis subsp. pyraster. Perry pears are higher in tannin and acid than eating or cooking pears, and are generally smaller.
The majority of perry pear varieties in the UK originate from the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire in the west of England. Of these, most originate in parishes around May Hill on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border. The standard reference work on these varieties of pear was published in 1963 by the Long Ashton Research Station; since then many varieties have become critically endangered or lost. There were over 100 varieties, known by over 200 local names, in Gloucestershire alone. Perry pears were particularly known for their picturesque names, such as the various Huffcap varieties (Hendre Huffcap, Red Huffcap, Black Huffcap, all having an elliptical shape), those named for the effects of their product (Merrylegs, Mumblehead), pears commemorating an individual (Stinking Bishop, named for the man who first grew it, or Judge Amphlett, named for Assizes court judge Richard Amphlett), or those named for the place they grew (Hartpury Green, Bosbury Scarlet, Bartestree Squash). In the UK the most commonly used variety is the Blakeney Red. Unsuitable for eating, it produces superior perry.
Perry pear trees can live to a great age, and can be fully productive for 250 years. They also grow to a considerable height and can have very large canopies; the largest recorded, a tree at Holme Lacy which still partly survives, covered three quarters of an acre and yielded a crop of 5–7 tons in 1790. Their size often led to them being planted to provide a windbreak for apple orchards.
Traditional perry making is broadly similar to traditional cider making, in that the fruit is picked, crushed, and pressed to extract the juice, which is then fermented using the wild yeasts found on the fruit's skin. The principal differences between perry and cider are that pears must be left for a critical period to mature after picking, and the pomace must be left to stand after initial crushing to lose tannins, a process analogous to wine maceration. After initial fermentation, the drink undergoes a secondary malolactic fermentation while maturing.
Perry pears often have higher levels of sugar than cider apples, including unfermentable sugars such as sorbitol, which can give the finished drink a residual sweetness. They also have a very different tannin content to cider apples, with a predominance of astringent over bitter flavours. The presence of sorbitol can also give perry a mild laxative effect.
The earliest known reference to fermented alcoholic drinks being made from pears is found in Pliny, but perry making seems to have become well established in what is today France following the collapse of the Roman empire; references to perry making in its later heartland of England do not appear before the Norman Conquest. In the medieval period, France retained its association with pear growing, and the majority of pears consumed in England were in fact imported from France.
By the sixteenth and seventeenth century, however, perry making had become well established in the west of England, where the climate and soil was especially suitable for pear cultivation. In the three counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire in particular, as well as in Monmouthshire across the Welsh border, it was found that perry pears grew well in conditions where cider apple trees would not. Smaller amounts were also produced in other cider-producing areas such as Somerset. Perry may have grown in popularity after the English Civil War, when the large numbers of soldiers billeted in the Three Counties became acquainted with it, and reached a zenith of popularity during the eighteenth century, when intermittent conflicts with France made the importing of wine difficult. Many farms and estates had their own orchards, and many varieties of pear developed that were unique to particular parishes or villages.
Modern commercial perries
The production of traditional perry began to decline during the 20th century, in part due to changing farming practices – perry pears could be difficult and labour-intensive to crop, and orchards took many years to mature. The industry was, however, to a certain degree revived by modern commercial perry making techniques, developed by Francis Showering of the firm Showerings of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, in the creation of their sparkling branded perry Babycham. Babycham, the first mass-produced branded perry, was developed by Showering from application of the Long Ashton Institute's research, and was formerly produced from authentic perry pears, though today it is produced from concentrate, the firm's pear orchards having now been dug up. Aimed at the female drinker at a time when wine was not commonly available in UK pubs, Babycham was sold in miniature Champagne-style bottles; the drink was for many years a strong seller and made a fortune for the Showering family. Another competing brand of light perry, Lambrini, is manufactured in Liverpool by Halewood International, and marketed under the slogan "Lambrini Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". It now dominates the light perry market and has a somewhat downmarket image in Britain. The Irish drinks company, Cantrell and Cochrane, Plc (C&C), more famous for its Magners and Bulmers ciders, launched a similar light perry, Ritz, in 1986.
Like commercial pale lager and commercial cider, commercial perry is highly standardised, and today often contains large quantities of cereal adjuncts such as corn syrup or invert sugar. It is also generally of lower strength, and sweeter, than traditional perry, and is artificially carbonated to give a sparkling finish. However, unlike traditional perry it is a consistent product: the nature of perry pears means that it is very difficult to produce traditional perry in commercial quantities. Traditional perry was overwhelmingly a drink made on farms for home consumption, or to sell in small quantities either at the farm gate or to local inns.
Decline and revival of traditional perry
Both English perry making, and the orchards that supplied it, suffered a catastrophic decline in the second half of the 20th century as a result of changing tastes and agricultural practices (in South Gloucestershire alone, an estimated 90% of orchards were lost in the last 75 years). Many pear orchards were also lost to Fire blight in the 1970s and 1980s. As well as the clearing of orchards, the decline of day labouring on farms meant that the manpower to harvest perry pears – as well as its traditional consumers – disappeared. It also lost popularity due to makers turning to dessert or general purpose pears in its manufacture rather than perry pears, resulting in a thin and tasteless product. In the UK prior to 2007, the small amounts of traditional perry still produced were mainly consumed by people living in farming communities.
However, perry (often marketed under the name "pear cider", below) has in very recent times increased in popularity, with around 2.5 million British consumers purchasing it in one year. In addition, various organisations have been actively seeking out old perry pear trees and orchards and rediscovering lost varieties, many of which now exist only as single trees on isolated farms; for example, the Welsh Cider Society recently rediscovered the old Monmouthshire varieties "Burgundy" and the "Potato Pear" as well as a number of further types unrecorded up to that point.
One may also find perry concentrated, in a similar style to applejack.
"Pear cider" has in recent years been used as an alternative name for alcoholic drinks containing pear juice, in preference to the term perry . According to the BBC, the term was first used when Brothers Cider, a product industrially made from pear concentrate, rather than the traditional method using perry pears, was sold at Glastonbury Festival in 1995: nobody understood what perry was and were told that it was "like cider, but made from pears".
The use of the term "pear cider", instead of perry, is one of the reasons for a new commercial lease of life to a drink that was in decline; in two years sales of the drink increased from £3.4 million to £46 million. The brewers Brothers, Gaymers and Bulmers/Magners now all have their own brands of pear cider, and Tesco and other major supermarkets have increased the number of pear ciders that they sell. The term "pear cider" is seen by the manufacturers as being more marketeable to the younger 18–34 demographic and by differentiating their products from previous brands associated with the word perry, such as Babycham and Lambrini that are either associated with the female market or deemed out of fashion by the younger demographic.
CAMRA takes makers like Brothers to task, defining perry and pear cider as quite different drinks, stating that "pear cider" as made by the large industrial cidermakers is merely a pear-flavoured drink, or more specifically a cider-style drink flavoured with pear concentrate, whereas "perry" should be made by traditional methods from perry pears only. (Brothers, Bulmers and other pear ciders are made from pear concentrate, often imported.) Others, including the industry trade National Association of Cider Makers, maintain that the terms perry and pear cider are interchangeable. Its own rules specify that perry or pear cider may contain no more than 25% apple juice.
Outside England, Wales & Normandy
The beverage is also becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Small local manufacturers are beginning to appear such as Gypsy Cider, brewed by 2 Brothers Brewery in Melbourne, Henry's of Harcourt (VIC) and LOBO Cider in the Adelaide Hills as well as Paracombe Premium Perry also in the Adelaide Hills. Few traditional European Perry pears are available, it is believed that Moorcroft, Gin, Green Horse & Yellow Huffcap varieties are in Australia. Eating pears are generally used with differing results in Australia. Australian Food Standards permit up to 25% of apple juice in Perry or Pear cider. The importation of pear ciders from abroad include brands such as Weston's, St Helier, Magners, Rekorderlig and Kopparberg now available. The only true Perry imported comes from Weston's where it also has the European Union Geographical indication protection. Weston's also import an Organic Pear Cider into Australia.
In the United States
With hard cider sales on the increase in the American alcoholic beverage market, the production of perry has increased alongside, with many craft cideries making perries (typically called pear cider in the United States) alongside their apple ciders. As the craft beer and cider industries took off in the United States in the 1990s, a few players experimented with perries. One of the first commercially available domestic perries in the US was Ace Cider's Perry Cider, introduced in 1996. Today, even mass market brands, such as MillerCoors' Crispin Hard Cider Company and Boston Beer Company's Angry Orchard, are producing perries.
In New Zealand
New Zealand is seeing a surge in the popularity of Pear Cider with Old Mout Cidery, Macs and Monteiths Brewery each producing a pear cider.
Japanese pear cider is called ' Nashi pear's sparkling wine ' or ' Pear Cidre ' (In Japan, Cidre is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples. Cider in Japan refers to a soft drink similar to Sprite or lemonade.).
Pear Cidre can be used as marketing terms to describe canned or bottled ciders containing a cider widget, or which are cold-filtered rather than pasteurised.
Higher quality pear cider is sold in champagne-style bottles (cidre bouché). Many pear ciders are sold in corked bottles, but some screw-top bottles exist.