Making Pearfect Perry—A chat with a GLINTCAP winner

The 15th Annual GLINTCAP was judged earlier this July, and while there were a handful of Canadian commercial ciders that took home some best in class medals, only one Canadian achieved that this year in the homebrew division. Gloria Bell won seven medals, including the 2nd Best in Class for the Modern Perry category. Her modern perry was made in 2018, out of just singular, unknown variety of pears from a century old pear tree. We caught up with her about her win via email.

CHA: Congrats on your recent win at GLINTCAP! Can you tell us what you made, and the process you took to make it?

GB: [The] perry started in October 2018. We picked, crushed and pressed the juice. I added sulfite and
pectinase (8 hours apart) and then racked off the sediment the next day. This helps [create] a cleaner
ferment and I find it is more essential to do with perry than with apple (from my experience) and
prevents off-flavours. Some pears can have more pectin than others, so knowing your fruit can help you
achieve a nice clear beverage when complete (if that is important to you).

I inoculated with yeast and fermentation was low and slow and took almost 2 months to go to dryness.
I added no amendments or flavours other than pectinase and sulfite and allowed time and a few
rackings to allow everything to clear. Perry was stored in carboy for 2.5 years fully topped up, sulfite
every quarter and stored in cool conditions (10°C in winter and no more than 17°C in the summer).

For finishing, I kegged and force-carbonated so it could finally be enjoyed (and bottled).

CHA: Did you submit any other entries into GLINTCAP, and if so, how did you do for the other entries?

GB: I submitted eight entries and medalled in seven. Here were the rest of my entries:
Lost Island Orchards was a wild seedling apple blend (2020)
Quincy Lemon Cider was a quince, lemon and heritage apple blend (2017)
Bell Boy Barrelled – 3 year french and american oak barrelled cider (2018)
Bell Estate Blend – Our orchard blend (2020)
Pinot Noir Meets Whiskey – French oak pinot noir barrel, then whiskey, then cider (2017/2018)
Truce Rose – Red fleshed apple single varietal (2019)

CHA: What is GLINTCAP, and why did you decide to send in entries for it?

GB: GLINTCAP (Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition) has been on my radar for a number
of years. Every summer when we are away camping or fishing, I see the results released and I quickly
head over to their website to check out the happenings. I quietly ponder the day I will send entries
in 🙂 It’s the world’s largest cider and perry competition and it’s international which I think is pretty
exciting.

I was on the fence whether to enter this year as I really did not ferment much the previous season and
we typically do not drink our ciders until they have aged a minimum of 12 months. The gold medal
perry was almost three years old, the barrelled ciders were three and four years old and the Quincy Lemon was
from 2017. Pretty long for most ciders, but thankfully fruit with lots of acid can hold up well.

Two of the entries were what we had been enjoying were in the kegs I honestly had just enough in
both kegs for the entries and a couple extra bottles. One was the perry and the other was the red fleshed
cider named Truce and it received a bronze.

A little tidbit—For all those wishing to submit to competitions, ensure you have lots of bottles of the
submitted beverage. If you do medal, it is just appreciated so much more (by others) because there’s
some fanfare attached to it.

CHA: How long have you been making perries (and ciders?), and how did you get into it?

GB: I’ve been making cider for about five or six years now, and perry a little less. Normally we would have a
few pears and just toss them into the ciders for a mix.

I got into fermenting fruit just after I started grafting apples. A friend dropped off an old portable
scratter and press for us to use with some apples we had acquired. From the moment that I tasted that
juice coming off the press—I was hooked. We bought carboys and started in and haven’t looked back.

The first cider was great and they’ve only gotten better with experience and time.

Now our family has two young hand grafted orchards containing about 150 trees. I’m already looking
forward to some incredible heritage and cider/perry fruit in the years to come but for now we forage for
wild apples and are lucky enough to have apple connections for the fruit we do ferment.

CHA: Is perry making very different from cider making? If so, (or not), can you elaborate?

GB: Perry is essentially the same as cider however most dessert pears are high in pH and can be at risk of
spoilage. Also you want to know your pears that you are going to mill/crush. Pears, unlike apples,
ripen from the inside out and if you miss the window where they are still firm enough to juice, you will
either be unable to get juice or you will have a real tough time doing so. Imagine this—you have apple
sauce in your hand, and you give it a squeeze. Do you get juice? Nope. Just sauce oozing out in all
directions. Once you’ve experienced this, you won’t soon forget it and will make sure it doesn’t happen
to you again.

Making a pear-only perry is a challenge and I like that. Finding the fruit is the first biggest hurdle!
Planting pear trees is a bit of a waiting game. The old adage is “pears for your heirs” meaning you
plant pear trees so that your heirs can eat the fruit and not necessarily you. These days there are new
rootstock that fruit a bit quicker but it’s normally around 5-7 years to start to see fruit and upwards of
ten years before they really crop.

Pears contain more sorbitol than apples and sorbitol is an unfermentable sugar. Many perries or cider
containing pears will retain a natural sweetness which is agreeable to many. Your hydrometer may
show it’s dry and under 1.000, but it may be perceived as sweeter thanks to that sorbitol.

Another difference between apples and pears is that pears can be high in citric acid. Proper sulfite use
and keeping oxidation to an absolute minimum is more key with perry.

The flavour of perry is much more delicate and gentle than most ciders. With every fruit being
different, I find in general that there is a soft flavour reminisent of pears but not overtly so. The colour
is normally less intense then cider and I find mine are more about the colour of straw. When sipping
on perry, be open and allow yourself to savour the elegant and graceful flavours that come forward.

Also try not chilling it too much and allow those gentle, whispy notes to come forward and tickle your
senses. Keep your eyes open at local cideries and be sure to give them a try.

CHA: Any advice for anyone thinking of getting into perry-making?

GB: Do your research on the pears you’d like to use. Ensure you have a good reliable pH meter. Make sure
to crush the pears before they ripen. Be aware if the pH of the pears is high (above 3.8) you will likely
need to add acid or blend with higher acid pears. Alternatively, you can blend high pH pears with low
pH apples and create a better balanced cider. I personally like about 20% pear and 80% apple when
I’m blending but it definitely depends on the fruit to find that balance. Balance is key to a good
fermented beverage.

With the pear variety I used for the medal-winning perry, I didn’t need to amend the acid, I just
fermented as is as it is a bittersharp variety. True perry pears are much like true cider apples. Some are
sharps, some are sweets, some are bittersweets and there are a few select varieties that are bittersharp
which are almost ideally balanced acid, sugar and tannin.

Cover photo courtesy of Gloria Bell.

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