Perry vs. Pear Cider

What is perry? Is it the same thing as pear cider? These questions come up quite often when I’m pouring our Seckel Perry or Perry Reserve at  events and tastings. The short answer is that perry is made entirely out of pears and pear cider is not. But that’s only the beginning of what separates perry from pear cider. Let’s take a closer look…


Perry, in it’s simplest form, is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears. Unfortunately, this is where it stops being simple. Just like with wine grapes for wine or cider apples for cider, there are very specific varieties of pears for making perry. 

Perry pears are not your standard juicy, sweet pears from the grocery store. They are harsh and bitter-tasting little buggers (think fist to the face). They are tough to grow and even harder to pick. With names like Butt, Thorn, Gin and Lightning, you can easily imagine that eating these fresh from the tree is not for the faint of heart or those with a delicate constitution. 

Despite the challenges along the way, drinking the end result—a soft, delicate and delicious perry—is well worth it in my opinion. This is why we attempt two perries each year—our Seckel Perry is made from heirloom Seckel pears and our Reserve Perry is made from eight traditional perry pear varieties grown in the Wenatchee Valley.

Pear Cider

So, what is pear cider? Pear cider is a relatively new phenomenon of apple cider sweetened with pear juice. 

These beverages are usually designed to be sweet and pear-esque in their flavor profile. The cider is often made from fairly neutral commercial apple juice or leftover apples that didn’t make the cut for the grocery store. It is then flavored with pear juice to give it sweetness, body and a bit of interest. In my opinion, it has about as much to do with perry as Kool-Aid has to do with wine. But don’t let my description put you off, pear cider exists because a lot of people love it, and with good reason. It’s an easy-drinking beverage, particularly in the fall season. Just don’t take your first sip of perry expecting it to be anything like pear cider...

Perry Reserve and Seckel Perry

Why is perry more difficult to make?

…Okay, now I’m going to nerd out a bit. 

In my experience, perry is much more difficult to make well than cider. The chemical and organic composition of pears is significantly different from apples. To begin with, pears tend to be much higher in citric acid than apples, which primarily contain malic acid. On its own it takes a pretty educated palate to discern between the two, however citric acid can quite easily convert to acetic acid during fermentation—which, you guessed it—is vinegar! This mistake can be a big surprise for anyone trying to make perry for the first time! Tasting a hint of vinegar in perry is common, but definitely not desirable.

The second largest challenge with perry is that it contains a fair amount of an unfermentable sugar called sorbitol. Sorbitol in perry means that there will still be a quite a bit of natural body and sweetness after a complete fermentation. This can be quite challenging as it gives too much body to the beverage, making it seem silky or even syrup-like at times. This is why some perries will be a bit more carbonated or even produced like a champagne (methode champenoise). The additional carbonation helps reduce that syrupy characteristic and really lightens the beverage overall. Fun fact: there is evidence that perry produced methode champenoise actually predates champagne!1  Our Perry Reserve is produced methode champenoise as a tribute to this historical gem.

As I mentioned earlier, perry pears are harsh and bitter when they come off of the tree. During fermentation, the tannins and harsh polyphenols (the compounds in food that give you flavor) mature and soften which can take quite a long time and requires a deft palate to know when it’s ready. However, this aging process is absolutely critical to the perry-making process. Interestingly, most perry is very mild once it’s finally released and its flavor bears little resemblance to the fresh pears that went into it.  

I hope that sharing this helps to bring an appreciation of what it takes to go from harsh perry pears into the soft, delicate and delicious drink that is perry. To quote Pete Brown: “So why on earth does anyone bother with this wretched, unfriendly drink? Because good perry—if you’re lucky enough to find it—is like drinking angel’s tears.”2

P.S. If you see “pear wine” on a label, it is just a snazzier way to describe perry and might be there simply because of antiquated regulations. 


Ask the Cidermaker
Do you have a question for Tim? Add it in the comments below or email Tim at tim@snowdriftcider.com

1World’s Best Cider, by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw, page 38.
2For more information, I suggest checking out World’s Best Cider by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw. This particular quote is from page 38.


Recipe for Spring – Cider Caramels!


Every now and then we dabble with cooking with our cider. We have to admit, the vast majority of the time we prefer just to sip it as it is, but when we can bring ourselves to cook with it, it yields some pretty fantastic results. This time—it's cider caramels!
These caramels are a great balance of buttery toffee with just a touch of cider character that cuts the sweet and brings it all together. Even better: they're super quick and easy to make, yielding a big reward for just a little effort. Here's how we made them:  
  • 1/4 cup cider
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tbsp butter
Combine all the above ingredients in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. If you have a candy thermometer, put it in at the beginning, let it heat with the caramel to 260 degrees. If you don’t have a candy thermometer you can do what we did – watch the caramel until the drips are slow to fall off the spoon and start to just hang there. Or you can drop it into some cold water to check its consistency.
The texture we’re after will be quite soft when hot, but will cool to a firm-but-flexible caramel (kind of like the old Canadian Mackintosh’s Toffee) that is both pliable and shatters when smacked against the counter or with a spoon.
When the caramel reaches the right temperature (about 5 minutes), pour onto a plate or small pan lined with a piece of parchment paper and cool to room temperature. After it cools, cut into small squares or bars. We wrapped ours in parchment paper to keep from eating them all at once. They taste amazing just as they are, but they're also pretty good with the tops dipped in cinnamon.



Cider is in … and on … the air! Friday Sept 26 on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

Tomorrow, Sept 26, we'll join Ben Watson, author of the book "Cider, Hard and Sweet",  Tom Ashbrook and Louisa Spencer of Farnum Hill Ciders on NPR's On Point Radio to talk about cider – the fresh, sweet "cider" and a variety of "hard" ciders from different producers.

Join us at 8am Pacific / 11am Eastern on the air or online at http://wbur.fm/1wMFuSH.

(At right, fresh Golden Russet apples in our orchard make their way from the tree to the cidery to go into our Orchard Select cider.)


August 16 Farm Dinner + Cider … with Capitol Cider's chef Erik Jackson!

We're very excited to take part in this dinner with chef Erik Jackson of Capitol Cider! Erik has been pioneering delicious, cider-friendly, gluten-free menu at Capitol Cider to great results, and on August 16 he is taking it directly to the source with a farm dinner at Dog Mountain Farm.

Sure to be an enjoyable evening with good company and pastoral views. Make your reservation online here.


Mentioned in Imbibe's "Oh, Pear!" article

Imbibe's Sept/Oct. Issue, featuring the article "Oh, Pear!"

Imbibe Magazine has a fun DIY Perry feature in their Sept/Oct 2013 issue, and we're mentioned right in the beginning!

It's pear season here – we just harvested Bartletts, Anjous will start any day now, and our earliest varieties of perry pears are just starting to ripen. If you have pears, or are in an area that does, Imbibe walks you through how to make perry at home. You'll need a bit of homebrewing/winemaking equipment, but chances are if you're reading this article you're already stocked up on that :). 

Here's a PDF of the article with step-by-step instructions.