If cider is the golden child of fruity booze, then perry could be considered its recalcitrant sibling. We’re not talking about the cheap, sickly sweet hooches found on the supermarket shelves here, we’re talking proper perry, made from proper perry pears. And the proper perry pears are where the problem lies.
The perry pear is a stubborn fruit, offering up only the smallest window of opportunity between picking and pressing before it turns from optimum ripeness to useless mush. And then there are the trees themselves. Often used as windbreaks in old orchards, the perry tree can grow vast, making harvesting some of the old vintage varieties an onerous task.
For those skilled perry-makers who persevere and tame this tenacious fruit, perry can be a highly prized, multi-faceted drink. A drink that can demonstrate a full gamut of flavours, ranging from light floral nuances to fully-fledged barnyard funkiness – flavour characteristics that can evoke the smell of old horse blankets, tack rooms and (bear with us on this) ripe cheeses.
The decent stuff can be tricky to get hold of – perry pears are a scarce commodity, as are the perry makers willing to wrestle with it – but it's worth the effort to seek out a snifter of this rare old drink. Here are ten princely perries for your drinking pleasure.
1. Gwatkin Farmhouse Perry: £28 for 6 x 750ml, Gwatkin Cider
The perry-makers at Gwatkin know how to coax the best from a juicy pear. Their extensive catalogue of perries ranges from single variety sparklers to full flavoured blends, the Farmhouse Perry being one of their best. It’s made from a lusty mix of old-fashioned pear varieties that offer up big mouthfuls of sweet fruits with a sharp, acidic kick.
2. Dunkertons Perry, 7.5%: £2.90 for 500ml, Vintage Roots
This is a splendid organic offering from deepest Herefordshire, pressed from farm-grown pears to produce a clean-tasting, pear-drop flavoured tipple that belies its potency. It’s made from a blend of vintage pears, among them a variety called Merrylegs – the origin of its name becoming all too apparent after a session on this golden-hued, juicy booze.
3. Oliver’s Bottle Conditioned Perry, 5%: £51 for 6 x 750ml, Bristol Cider Shop
Tom Oliver makes world-beating ciders, and – much to the consternation of his pear-squashing peers – makes even better perry. Try the bottle conditioned medium; it’s an unfiltered, unpasteurised, unpreserved perry, awash with intriguing flavours that range from tropical fruits to the delicate hint of elderflower.
4. Hallets Perry, 4.5%: £30 for 12 x 500ml, Hallets
Adept at grappling both apple and pears, the Welsh fruit-worriers of Hallets produce a fine perry to accompany their much lauded cider. It’s an artfully balanced, amber perry with subtle floral sweetness with a light, bright sparkle. It would seem too obvious to pair this Caerphilly-born booze with Caerphilly cheese, but we did – and they go together harmoniously.
5. Hogan’s Vintage Perry, 5.4%: £24 for 12 x 500ml, Hogan’s Cider
Lording it from atop the Malvern Hills, Hogan’s plunders its fruit from the pear-bearing counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. The resulting perry is delicate, well-rounded and complex, with the slightest hint of farmhouse cheese. A subtle, savory perry to savour.
6. Burrow Hill Perry, 6.3%: £2.40 for 500ml, The Somerset Cider Brandy Company
The fruit varieties used in this perry read like the character list from a Harry Potter book. Thorn, Brandy and Hendre Huffcap pears are all present, and go to create a bewitching mix of delicate flavours, making this a delightfully quaffable booze with a thirst-quenching dryness.
7. Bushel & Peck Perry, 5.5%: £2.40 for 500ml, Bristol Cider Shop
A cracking flaxen booze wrought by the hands of a small-scale producer. Provenance is the key here – only locally sourced Gloucestershire pears get a look in. The resulting perry is smooth and fruity with a precise acidic twang. The rarity of the old fruits that go to make this perry are in limited supply, so grab a bottle when you can.
8. Butford Aurora Premier Crus, 5%: £8 for 750ml, Butford Organics
Butford Organics is still rosy cheeked and flush with success after scooping the Champion Perry award at this year's Bath and West Show, the Oscars of the perry world. Aurora is a crisp, lively, bottle-conditioned booze that packs champagne-style fizz and a dry, biscuity finish. Chill before serving and open with care – you’ll want this in your glass, not dripping from your kitchen ceiling.
9. Hecks Perry, 6.5%: £3 for 500ml, Bristol Cider Shop
Outrageously gate-crashing the Three Counties perry party, Hecks makes its perry the Somerset way, using its own farm-grown fruits to produce this vibrant homage to the pear. It’s a bright and boozy perry with a hint of barnyard funk.
10. Once Upon A Tree Priggles Perry, 6%: £5.30 for 750ml, Once Upon A Tree
Dust off your best fluted glasses for this classy number. Priggles Perry is born and blended from Herefordshire pears, grown in immaculately managed orchards. Once Upon Tree draws upon its award-winning winemaker’s experience to produce this elegant, polished perry with notes of lemon blossom on the nose, a lingering taste of caramelised pears and a sharp pineapple bite.
The Verdict: Perry
There’s a perry to suit all tastes in Gwatkin’s expansive range. Work through its catalogue (but not all in one sitting) and you're sure to find a favourite. For special occasions, reach for the Butford Aurora – a classy, high calibre perry that puts many champagnes to shame. Just take care when popping the cork.