Perry Good!
Perry Good Indeed! 
Dave Matthews reports on one of Wales' most traditional beverages

Traditional, natural perry is a fantastic drink, but one that can be hard to find. It's made by fermenting the juice of special perry pears that grow on huge old trees that can be anything up to 300 years old. Perry is the pear equivalent to cider, but the drink itself has more of a resemblance to a fine white wine.

Cider is made in every corner of the globe, whereas perry is a much rarer, more local drink. There's quite a lot made in southern Normandy, near Domfront, and of course the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire are relatively famous for it. There's just one more place where you can still find the old trees - Monmouthshire, in southeast Wales.

For hundreds of years each and every farm in Monmouthshire would have made its own perry - for the farmer's table, for the workforce, and to sell to the local inn. Bottled-conditioned perry was a famed drink during the Hundred Years War. Each parish would have developed its own varieties to suit the local climate and palate, and given them names that have since been largely long forgotten. With the mechanisation of agriculture at around the time of WW2, this great tradition came to an end, the presses fell silent and many of the great trees were bulldozed down.

Interestingly, mass-produced 'Industrial Perry' never really caught on in the same way that our TV-advertised 'Industrial Cider' has. There are a variety of reasons, one of which relates to the manner in which the huge cider mills transport apples from the silos to the presses. The apples are floated down water channels, with the added advantage that they also get a good wash. Pears, on the other hand, are too dense, they sink!

The Perry Renaissance

For many years Monmouthshire's pears dropped and rotted where they had fallen. Then in 1986 Mike Penney and his Troggi Seidr company at Earlswood started to make perry again, collecting pears at an old orchard south of Raglan, which boasts ten beautiful old trees. Mike blends the pears to make his draught brew, and recently took both the silver and bronze medals at the 2004 Welsh Cider Championships with his single-orchard brews. Elsewhere in Monmouthshire, Andrew Canning makes his Clytha Perry at the Clytha Arms near Abergavenny, and started off in the 1990s by using pears from the pub garden. Now he also sources from local orchards, and his excellent 2002 'Blakeney Red' Perry was the very first cider or perry to sell out at CAMRA's National Championships at Reading in May 2003.

Seidr Dai is my cider company, and although I live in Cardiff, we source nearly all of our perry pears from Monmouthshire. We specialise in single varietal perries, and two of our favourites are 'Burgundy' which we've found at a number of farms around Raglan, and the spicier 'Berllanderi Green' - a single tree growing at Berllanderi Farm south of Raglan. 'Blakeney Red' is a variety from just over the border in Gloucestershire, and is the most common variety found in Monmouthshire. This year we've made 200 gallons of it! On a much smaller scale, we've made a few gallons of 'Potato Pear' perry, from pears that, yes, look just like spuds growing on trees!

There's a couple of other Welsh cidermakers who produce perry, but with no Monmouthshire connections. Seidr Gwynt-y-Ddraig are based in the Vale of Glamorgan, and made perry for the first time last year. Powys' Ralph's Cider should be aiming to make plenty, to supply their own ciderhouse pub that opened last Spring on their farm at New Radnor. Ralph carried off the 2004 Welsh Cider Championships, with an exquisite perry made from the 'Parsonage' perry pear variety.

Bring Me Some Perry!

Certainly! Just head down to the Welsh Cider Festival, where you'll be able to find perries from all of the cidermakers mentioned above, and a whole lot of ciders too. It's held over each Whitsun bank holiday weekend at the end of May / start of June. There'll be plenty of food cooked in cider and perry, Welsh cheeses, cider and perry served from the coachhouse, live music, and a family atmosphere in the garden. Take advantage of the free camping, we certainly shall be!

Just over the border, there's plenty of perry to be had, in the Three Counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The Herefordshire Cider Route will take you to many perry producers, and details can be found at www.ciderroute.co.uk . If you want to order a case bottled perry delivered to your door, simply click on to the website of fab Leominster perry merchant, The Orchard, Hive and Vine (www.orchard-hive-and-vine.co.uk ). For details of various events and festivals where draught perry can be sampled, look at www.thethreecountiesciderandperryassociation.co.uk

Of course, CAMRA festival organisers go to great lengths to secure a range of perries for their happy customers. Thanks to them, perry has found its way into corners of the UK where the perry pear tree has never even dreamt of taking root. Perhaps the three largest perry selections are at the GBBF in August, the Peterborough shindig later the same month, and the Reading fest (and UK Cider and Perry Championships) in May.

Inspite of its revival, Welsh perry is still an endangered drink, the old trees won't live forever. We need land owners to plant Welsh varieties of perry pear trees, and more people to make perry to help popularise it. If you want to make perry, join the Welsh Cider Society at www.welshcider.co.uk , and I'll be in touch. If you want to plant some pear trees, contact Paul Davis at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or on 01558 668744, and his Dolau-Hirion Nursery can deliver some to you at reasonable prices.

In the meantime, find some natural Welsh perry, and enjoy the most authentic taste of Welsh history.

This is an adaptation of an article first published in Gwent CAMRA's 'Beer Necessities', and reproduced here with their kind permission.

David Matthews
2004

 

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