An alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears that was a favorite drink of Napoleon’s is gaining popularity in the United States, thanks to a wave of hard apple cider producers in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington and Oregon grow more pears than any other region in the nation. So it’s only fitting that the region’s cider makers are bringing this shapely fruit to the bottle as a golden beverage called perry.
Increasingly, perry can be found in cidery sampling rooms and on shelves of specialty wine shops and large liquor stores.
“Our region offers an ideal climate to grow pears. It also has plenty of innovative craft-beverage makers seeking ways to use fruit that grows here,” said fermentation expert Bri Ewing at Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research and Extension Center — home to one of the oldest cider research programs in the nation.
Perry is catching on nationwide and especially in the Pacific Northwest, piggybacking on the craft beer and cider craze, she said.
The region also offers “beverage-savvy consumers drawn to new and local flavors,” said Ewing, who teaches perry making in her cider-production workshops.
From Butt to angel tears
“Perry doesn’t scream; it whispers,” said Tim Larsen of Snowdrift Cider Co. in Wenatchee, Wash., where sleek bottles are sold at the family-run cidery encircled by pear and apple orchards.
Perry, like cider, is fermented instead of brewed like beer. And real perry isn’t made from Bartlett or d ‘Anjou, but from perry pears — a variety so homely-looking and bitter that they don names like Butt, Thorn and Lightning.
Yet they undergo an enchanting transformation when crushed and fermented with yeast and properly aged.
“I often tell people that a good perry ‘is like drinking angel tears,’” said Larsen, who likes to quote author Pete Brown from “World’s Best Cider.”
“There are more producers making perry and much more attention being given to highlight that the product is indeed perry, not pear cider,” he said, adding that pear cider is apple cider sweetened with pear juice, while perry is made solely from perry pears.
Steep learning curve
Pears are more temperamental than apples, often prompting craft cider producers experimenting with perry to consult WSU’s Ewing for tips.
“Perry is more challenging to make than cider. One false move, and it can hint of vinegar or become syrupy,” she said.
This explains why Larsen has done so much tinkering since producing his first batch of perry in 2008. The attention paid off, earning the cidery’s Reserve Perry six awards since 2012, including first place in three international competitions.
“Early on, I learned that a great harvest doesn’t mean a great perry — that technique and timing are equally important,” he said. “When it comes to making cider, there’s a lot of science on apples to guide us. When it comes to making perry, there’s more flying by the seat of our pants.”