FOR MORE THAN 400 years, up until the early 20th century, perry making was one of the traditional arts of the West Midlands region of England and played an important part in the rural economy. In the late 17th century perry was in significant demand and highly valued throughout the whole country. Perry was kept for special guests and family occasions and, when bottle-fermented, certain perries were accepted as being comparable to French champagne.However, like many rural industries, perry making suffered a significant decline after the industrial revolution commenced in the 19th century.
To day, in the early 21st century, ‘true’ perry – made entirely from genuine perry pears – is no only produced in small quantities – primarily in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Worcestershire. With its inherent production challenges – slow growing trees difficult fruit harvesting and processing, slow fermentation and slow maturation – ‘manufacture’ of this true perry has been shunned by the larger-scale business enterprise. Its creation is thus left to a handful of craft producers in the western counties ofEngland, who can give it the necessary care and attention to detail.
Perry pear trees have not faired much better. The impressive orchards of western England and eastern Wales also had their hey-day in the late 17th and early 18th century, but other than a small number of plantings recently undertaken by a few of enthusiasts, have been in significant decline over the past hundred years or so. Fortunately, due to their longevity, a number of very old perry pear trees remain scattered throughout the region, but with every year that passes, a few more disappear.
The resulting beverage – known only to a relatively few discerning customers – can be ‘gin’ bright togolden yellow in colour. The aroma is subtle and wide ranging – suggesting hints of hedgerow fruits, exotic citrus and meadow flowers. On the palate, the acidity and tannin is balanced by sweetness from unfermented sugars – and with the great vintage perries, made after a fine English summer, the flavours so found are only limited by the extent of the drinker’s descriptive vocabulary.