PETER FROST says you can still find good farm perry despite the efforts of the multinational drinks industry
Do you remember Babycham? I do, “the genuine champagne Perry” chimed the advert for what was probably the first Alcopop – it was the first alcoholic drink advertised on TV. When I first came across I back in the 1960’s I don’t think I realised it was actually made from pears. It made millions for the Showering company.
Now all kinds of perry are to be found in pubs and on supermarket shelves. Two and a half million people in Britain were drinking perry last year but much of this new perry is chemical concoctions from the big multinational drink companies rather than traditional brews made from real pears.
The same companies that turned commercial cider from a refreshing and healthy natural drink made from apples into a top selling chemically produced range of profitable branded beverages hit on perry as another road to riches where taste and purity would be shed in favour of profit.
Irish companies and some from Scandinavia brewed up their dubious offerings from pear and other fruit concentrates shipped halfway around the world.
Despite some really rural names and some equally homespun looking labeling this new perry came from the chemistry lab and factory rather than farm and orchard.
If you fancy a glass of real perry, and it is one of my favourite drinks, then you are best to stick to local and traditional brews made by people more concerned with quality and flavour than with marketing and profits.
Even today there is no shortage of good locally made perry but it isn’t always easy to find. Over the years, supermarkets and pub chains have moved drinkers away from traditional brews on to horrors like keg lagers, chemical ciders and more recently pernicious perry.
Before the recent renaissance in perry the trees that grew the pears to make it almost disappeared. Whole perry pear orchards were grubbed up. Britain lost ninety per cent of its perry orchards in the last 75 years.
Fortunately a few brave souls kept faith with the old ways and there are still some perry pear orchards that can produce the fruit to keep the juice flowing mostly around the Gloucestershire Herefordshire borders.
Perry pears come in many varieties and some have some really exotic names. What about Merrylegs or Honey Knob, Potato Pear and Painted Lady, Early Treacle, Stinking Bishop, Mumblehead or, would you believe Bloody Bastard? – No really, it’s just a perry pear with attitude.
The Campaign for Real Ale are also encouraging producers and brewers to make many more real varieties of perry and you can find out about their campaign and about real perry in their publication ‘The Good Cider Guide.’ www.camra.org.uk/books . As well as cider makers the guide lists many good perry makers and pubs that sell proper farm house perry.
One such producer is Gwatkins Farmhouse Perry in the heart of the Golden Valley under the Black Mountains very near the Welsh border in Herefordshire where perry has been made for centuries.
Gwatkins produce perry made from a blend of old fashioned varieties of pears, harvested from the few remaining pear orchards on or near the farm.
In late Autumn the real fruit is milled and pressed to extract the delicious golden pear juice, which is fermented over the winter months in oak vats.
By spring the brew is almost ready and the perry maker taps and samples each vat and then, only if it is ready, is it racked off into bottles or barrels.
They also produce proper perry made from a single named species of pear where fruit harvests allow.
Gwatkins has a farm shop well worth a visit. Along with their range of perry, they also produce prize winning ciders and can deliver their perry to drinkers all over Britain. www.gwatkincider.co.uk
This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012
I’m not the only Perry fan in Braunston, Pete Lawrence kindly introduced me to his favourite tipple when he hosted the first meeting to discuss the Braunston Cider Co-operative. He shared a jar of Weston’s Herefordshire Country Perry and it was truly delicious, flowery, fruity and just right for drinking on a summer afternoon or balmy evening. Thanks Pete for a nice drop of stuff..