Perry: a layperson’s guide

Perry

The fact is, perry is far more often heard of than seen – and even then usually only alongside references to ‘real cider’. A younger, dainty sibling is perry to the oaken, bucolic, ‘real’ cider that is so much a part of tradition in England’s and France’s rural corners. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that this sibling, save for the odd dance in the 1960s and 70s, hasn’t seen much of the world beyond the farm gate. So we went to visit.

With the help of renowned perry producer and guru Tom Oliver, we’ve herded up eight perries, each of which represents this humble category in its own distinctive way. And to help you work out which perry is for you, we’ve put them past our own inexpert panel and attributed a character to each, from the ‘peart’ and sprightly partygoer to the seasoned perry adventurer. Wellies on? Come on in.

Brian Perry

Babycham

Who: The ‘peart’ partygoer

How: From a champagne saucer upon entering a retro-themed ball

Tom says: Yes, a true perry, and one that was very well made during its heyday in the 1950s and 60s. Light, bubbly and easy. Ultimately aimed at the ladies, and an outright success within that demographic. Now made in Europe, and admittedly lacking some of its previous glamour.

We say: Not much in the way of flavour (and certainly not pear) but truckloads of sweetness in the form of completely refined sugar. Loses its initial fizz very quickly. Fit for purpose, though, and deserving of credit for that.

Henry Weston’s Perry

Who: The rural festivalgoer

How:  From a plastic cup, ideally at a folk festival or similar outing

Tom says: A commercial and consistent perry from the large independent producers who stock most of the major supermarkets with own-brand offerings. Relatively easy to get hold of and very accessible.

We say: Certainly asserts the fact that it is made from fruit, but exactly which fruit isn’t immediately obvious. Apple cider qualities appear to prevail: reminiscent of student flat, sleeping bag and wet tent. That said, with a good helping of ice there’s no denying the refreshing qualities of this particular offering.

Perry cross the Mersey

Dunkertons Organic Perry

Who: The work-tired and thirsty

How: Straight from the fridge, relaxing in the garden

Tom says: A carbonated, more general, easy-going perry, which is ideal for drinking. This would be one for storing in the fridge, to be brought out when you want to put your feet up. A fully fermented perry that’s been back-sweetened and which has been created through an early and on-going commitment to organic produce.

We say: Again, difficult to decipher the pears. This one seems to react differently with each of the testers: Tixylix cough syrup to one, Barbour wax jackets to another. A pleasantly bready aftertaste was appreciated by all, however.

Eric Bordelet Poire Granit

Who: The sweet-toothed perry virgin

How: Works very well with a plat du jour (ideally on the French Riviera)

Tom says: If somebody’s never tasted perry before or isn’t the biggest drinker in the world, give them a bottle of this – it’ll make them think that perry is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s so juicy, so fruity, so easy, so light, so everything. People just fall in love with it.

We say: Incredible. A really distinctive perry, this one, with a gorgeous interplay between sweet and sour going on – think liquid rhubarb and custards. Lots of tangy sherbet on the tongue and a woody backbone. The flavour and texture more than make up for the 3.5% ABV (although perhaps not the hefty price tag).

He's not the messiah; he's a perry naughty boy

Priggles Perry

Who: The gourmet

How: Especially good when paired with light chicken dishes and cheeses

Tom says: This is a wine-style perry, so it’s still. Made using locally sourced perry pears, it’s got a delicate nose of pear and citrus. It’s the perfect choice for drinkers keen to explore the possibilities of pairing fine food and perry.

We say: What a nose; someone’s passing around the rhubarb and custards again, or perhaps Granny’s stewing rhubarb in the kitchen. Plenty of sweetness on the palate and bags of juicy fruit. Imagine a tutti-frutti concentrate. Perhaps even some red chilli in there. Unfortunately for the squeamish, the clear glass bottle doesn’t hide the ectoplasmic sediment lurking at the bottom.

Farnum Hill Extra Dry Perry

Who: The convinced dry white wine connoisseur

How: Matched with food as only a connoisseur knows how

Tom says: Farnum Hill are the granddaddies of bittersweet cider apple cultivation in the US, and very particular about everything they make. Now that their pear trees are fruiting, they’re producing top-rate perry of the very driest kind, very much in the style of fine white wine.

We say: Unexpected notes of coconut and apple pie dominate. This really is like drinking a white wine, although we’re not so sure if that’d be a fine one, and it certainly wouldn’t be strong either. An unusually buttery note was also noted.

Perry winkles

Gregg’s Pit Sparkling Perry

Who: The well-heeled, savvy perry drinker

How: Ideal as an aperitif, but also as a celebratory drink

Tom says: A rare perry and a very good-quality one at that, made using the keeving method which retains natural, unfermented pear sugars. Bottle conditioned and relatively expensive, it’s the sort you’d have to know of to get hold of. One for a special occasion.

We say: We’re entering craft perry now, no question. An overwhelmingly sulphuric nose settles down not a moment too soon, making way for some distinctively yeasty, beery notes. A polarising perry – some considered the taste surprisingly watery while others began to realise the complexity of this drink.

Oliver’s Fine Dry Perry

Who: The perry drinker with a thirst for adventure

How: Sipped and appreciated

Tom says: A real monster of a drink exhibiting all the facets of fine perry. It’s a big-tasting, bottle-conditioned number. Goes in with a degree of sweetness followed by a whole raft of classic characteristics including elderflower and rhubarb, before finishing on an astringently dry note. A heck of a journey, not for the uninitiated.

We say: Liquid sand – like sucking a teabag. A challenging perry, no doubt, but the panel is undeniably enamoured by it (once the tongues have recovered from the initial desiccation). There’s just so much going on here. We could get to know this.