Out of the Pear Orchard and Into the Glass Perry, or alcoholic pear cider, was a favorite drink of Napoleon's. Now, it's getting a modern makeover. A conversation with a perry maker from England, and a taste test of different perries, explore what sets it apart from other libations.
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Out of the Pear Orchard and Into the Glass

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Out of the Pear Orchard and Into the Glass

Out of the Pear Orchard and Into the Glass

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Summer seems like the perfect time to sample something refreshing. So here's Tom Oliver of Herefordshire, England, to tell us about perry, the alcoholic beverage he makes from pears.

TOM OLIVER: When you first try it, you can forget all about anything else you've ever tasted and drunk, because this is just a little bit different. In terms of aroma, you're getting a little bit of what are called hedgerow fruits mixed with tropical fruits. And they're two quite different experiences but subtly mixed. So you have elderflower and blackberry, possibly, mixing with pineapple, melon and guava. And all in a sort of citrusy setting. And underneath that, then you have the alcohol, which is not wine strength, but it's above beer strength. So it's somewhere between six and eight percent, and it really does all come together to make just a really nice, full but gentle, satisfying drink.

NORRIS: Tom Oliver has been making perry from pears and hard cider from apples all his life. Eight years ago, his love of the libation led him to turn his hobby into a business. And he began bottling his product for sale. That move required a lot of research and planning, not to mention the planting of 200 specialized pear trees for perry.

OLIVER: It was becoming quite clear that the old trees and orchards that I rely on for my fruit are very much something that's in the final throws of being productive. Some of these trees now are 150, 200 years old. And there had been a distinct lack of planting in recent years. So what I did was plant a large selection of my own trees. And these were trees of perry pears, which have wonderful names, things like a yellow huffcap. There's a pear called a rock. There's one called blakeney red. There's a variety called merrylegs.

NORRIS: Is that so named because it makes you want to kick up your heels or because you become a bit wobbly after drinking it?

OLIVER: I think it's the wobbly side that it's named after. The basic recognition is that when you're drinking perry - because it does slip down very easily - it's when you come to stand up and leave wherever you're sat and go out into the open air that your legs stop to go from underneath you.

NORRIS: Oh, no. So it takes quite a while to bring these trees to maturity. How long does it take to actually make a batch of perry?

OLIVER: Basically, the fruit reaches maturity - the harvest time is the autumn. You would then ferment the juice that you would produce, and this fermentation could take anything from two to four months. You want it to go slowly over the cool, cold winter and finish off as it starts to warm up in the spring. I, then, age my perry for two to four months so that by the time you've actually taken your perry through the whole process - mine is about eight months to 10-months-old before it's bottled.

NORRIS: That's perry maker Tom Oliver of Herefordshire, England. Now, Robert, after hearing that wonderful description, don't you think we should actually try some of those?

SIEGEL: I'm absolutely dying of thirst right now.

NORRIS: Tom has exported a couple of hundred cases of his perry to the United States. We actually have a bottle right here in the studio courtesy of Jordana Pomeroy. She has help Tom find a U.S. distributor, and she's brought some of this in with us to give us a perry primer.

SIEGEL: These really are the best kind of stories that we do.

JORDANA POMEROY: Oh, good. I enjoy being here. Thank you for having me. And this particular fine perry is made from blakeney red perry pears, and you will be able to find it probably at the end of July. You will find that there is an astringency, there's a lot of tannin in this. But it's complex and not sweet and will go with pork, chicken, by fish, also.

SIEGEL: Use a whole wine vocabulary for describing this. I mean, you're talking - you talk about its nose, also.

POMEROY: Yes. And bouquet. And it's the same - it has the same, sort of, levels and layers of taste and flavor and aroma that you would use when you describe, say, a sauvignon blanc. Would you like to try it?

NORRIS: Oh, we love to.

SIEGEL: Absolutely. Well, cheers.

POMEROY: Cheers.

NORRIS: Cin-cin.

POMEROY: You can smell sort of its very perry smell. You can swirl it around as you did with wine.

SIEGEL: Well, I've completely forgotten everything that I ever drank.

POMEROY: Well, it certainly is different, I hope, from anything you've tried here.

NORRIS: Now, Jordana, we're told that Napoleon had quite an affinity for perry. Now, he would probably be tasting the second variety that you have here, which is in, something that looks quite like a champagne bottle.

POMEROY: Indeed. It is more of a champagne. This - it's the maker of Eric Bordelet who is well known for his champagne-style ciders and perries - though they don't call it perry in France, they call it poire. And this particular one, it would have been probably closer to what Napoleon was referring. It's fermented in the bottle, and so it has fizz to it. And, as you see, Oliver's is still. Now this, the Bordelet, you will find much sweeter. It's lovely. I mean, it's, sort of, a good picnic beverage. It also has a very French fragrance.

SIEGEL: I can taste more of the pear straight ahead in this. It's reminiscent as a pear taste.

NORRIS: Now, where would one find this?

POMEROY: Oh, actually in a wine shops. If you can find it. If you find any perry, this is probably what you'll find.

SIEGEL: So these are the imports? These are, these are imports we've tasted.

POMEROY: Correct.

SIEGEL: Domestic perries or pear ciders that we might find more easily?

POMEROY: Well, you will find this - if you look hard for them, they do appear in gourmet grocery stores. You might find them in a very, very good tavern with a large variety of microbrews, for example. But many of these cider and perry makers in the U.S. produce in very small quantity as they are doing in, in the U.K. And - which is a good thing. So I would advice you to avoid the more widespread ones that you find everywhere. They, they may have a very popular, sort of, appeal, but they do not resemble the original from which they've sprung the original perry from the U.K and the poire from Normandy.

NORRIS: Jordana, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us. This has been great fun.

SIEGEL: Yeah, thank you.

POMEROY: Oh, it's great pleasure. Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: That's Jordana Pomeroy, who helped bring Tom Oliver's perry to the U.S. You can get information on Oliver's perry and on Eric Bordelet's poire at our website, NPR.org.

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