Perry is made by fermenting the juice of freshly squeezed pears with the help of natural yeasts. As apples are to cider, so pears are to perry. Perries have complex but subtle flavors that are typically more delicate than cider; good perry can be like a subtle white wine. In some parts of West England high quality perry is enjoyed at weddings instead of champagne.
Pears are one of the world’s oldest cultivated and beloved fruits. In The Odyssey, the Greek poet laureate Homer lauds pears as a “gift of the gods.” Thanks to their versatility and long storage life, pears were a valuable and much-desired commodity among the trading routes of the ancient world. Evident in the works of Renaissance Masters, pears have long been an elegant still-life muse for artists. In the 17th century a great flourishing of modern pear variety cultivation began taking place in Europe. And in popular culture, the pear tree was immortalized alongside a partridge in the 18th-century Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Early colonists brought the first pear trees to America’s eastern settlements where they thrived until crop blights proved too severe to sustain widespread cultivation. Fortunately, the pear trees brought west to Oregon and Washington by pioneers in the 1800’s thrived in the unique agricultural conditions found in the Pacific Northwest. Today’s Northwest pear varieties are the same or similar to those first cultivated in France and Belgium where they were prized for their delicate flavor, buttery texture, and long storage life.
While the process of making perry is similar to making apple cider, the taste is as unique as a pear itself. Like cider, perry is made from raw unfiltered juice. Since the juice is pressed fresh, it often quickly oxidizes and give that characteristic brown color we all know and love from apple cider. Since the fruit often has native yeasts in its skin, pear and apple juices immediately begin to ferment unless they are pasteurized. For this reason, almost all perry and cider in the 18th Century was “hard.” The basic process for brewing pear cider doesn’t differ from making hard apple cider. Pears have a tiny bit of sorbitol, which is an unfermentable sugar, so pear cider may end up a bit sweeter than hard apple cider. Beyond that, the main difference is in the aromatics of pear cider. Bluntly, perry tastes like pears.
Start by extracting pear juice from pears using a press or juicer. This is the same initial step whether you’re making fresh sweet cider or going on to make hard cider. Raw, unheated juice will have the best flavor.
After this violent stage of fermentation, the yeast has begun converting a significant portion of the sugars to alcohol and it’s important to attach a water lock to keep foreign bacteria out. The main concern is acetic acid bacteria that will convert the alcohol to vinegar. Attach a water lock and ferment for 2-3 weeks.
After the primary ferment, the pear cider is “racked” into another container using a siphon hose. This leaves the sediment behind in the primary fermentation vessel and will help clarify the cider. It also helps prevent off-flavors from anything in the sediment. Finally, the movement of the cider adds oxygen which will refresh the yeast and allow them to kick off a secondary fermentation cycle.
Attach a water lock to your secondary ferment and allow it to ferment until the bubbles slow down and come to a natural stop. This should take 2-6 weeks depending on the yeast and ambient temperature.
When the cider is finished, it’s time to bottle. Allow the perry to bottle condition for at least 2 weeks, but ideally 2 months or more before drinking.
This simple recipe will brew 5-gallon batch of perry.
- Juice of roughly 100 pounds of pears (5 gallons)
- 1 lb brown sugar
- 1 packet brewing yeast
- Wash pears before processing.
- Grind pears into a fine pulp with fruit grinder. There is no need to remove the peel or cores as these will be retained by the press.
- Load pulp into cider press and apply enough force to expel juice.
- Once pulp no longer produces juice, discard pulp.
- Pitch with yeast and allow to ferment for two weeks.
- Rack fermentation to secondary, discarding dregs.
- Allow to ferment another two weeks or until fermentation stops.
- Bottle or keg.
- Age for at least 6 weeks.