Perry is to pears as cider is to apples. Perry, a fermented pear beverage, has much in common with cider in terms of history and production.
Both cider and perry have early roots in Normandy, and traveled north to England by way of the Norman Invasion in the eleventh century. But it takes a pear tree almost fifty years to bear fruit, and it wasn't until the seventeenth century that pear cultivation was well established in England—centered around the Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire regions—where the majority of the world's traditional perry comes from today.
A perry pear is gritty, tannic and acidic, which makes it somewhat similar to a cider apple. But that is where the similarities end. Perry pear tannins tend to be rounder than those found in cider apples, and the pears used for perry have less malic acid than cider apples, resulting in a beverage that is less tart and more delicate.
Finally, pears contain more fruit-sugars than apples, including sorbitol, an unfermentable sugar that leaves the perry slightly sweet. Similar to champagne, most perries are naturally carbonated in the bottle. Artificial carbonation is usually reserved for common perry...perry made from the fermentation of traditional table fruit rather than inedible perry apples.
What to Look For in a Perry
Traditional Perry is an incredibly light, delicate beverage ranging from 4% to 8% ABV (mostly toward the lower end of that spectrum). A good perry drinks like a subtle white wine. While pear-like characteristics can be present, perry is far from a fruit bomb. While some perries finish completely dry, most perries are slightly sweet due to the aforementioned sugar content. A good perry balances this sweetness with a fair amount of contrasting tartness and slight tannic quality.
When it comes to pairings, perry is a knockout with unassuming cream-based desserts such as panna cotta or creme brulee. It also works well with soft cheese and simple vegetable preparations.
Our Favorite Traditional Perries
Christian Drouin Poire ($13) This traditional French perry from from Rouen, France is the perfect introduction into the world of perry. At just 4% ABV, Christian Drouin Poire is highly drinkable, and its fine carbonation and light acidity make it wonderful with food. While there are some pear notes, the mineral and floral qualities lead the palate with just a touch of sweetness in the finish.
AEppelTreow Perry ($18) Wisconsin's AEppleTreow perry is bursting with terroir. The "pear" flavor is quite muted; instead, AEppelTreow perry is full of complex, spicy notes. It starts off rustic and earthy but finishes delicate and sweet. We could have used a bit more acidity to balance the sweetness, but overall this is a fantastic American perry that is perfect for the adventurous drinker.
Bordelet Poiré Granit ($26) A perry suited for celebrations. French cider-maker Erik Bordelet's Poiré Granit is the most complex, yet balanced perry we tasted. There is a fair amount of residual sugar but the sweetness is balanced out by a stronger level of acidity than most perries. Mineral and highly tannic at the forefront, the Poiré Granit finishes with hints of caramel and big, floral notes. This one of the few perries that will hold up to more substantial pairings including butter based sauces, fish dishes, and simple white meat preparations. A perry worth seeking out; serve it instead of champagne.