Monday, 21 September 2009

A Vintage Year For Perry?

The new cidermaking season has started a little earlier than usual, though it's not Cider we've been making, but Perry.

This season has turned out to be a bumper one for pears, and Perry Pears in particular. We managed to press a relatively small quantity of Blakeney Red Perry Pears last year, but this year looks like being a 'Vintage' one for perry, with huge crops of very good quality pears reported throughout the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire. The Worcestershire orchard we have access to has a number of huge, mature perry pear trees, including Red Longdon, Green Horse, Blakeney Red, and Moorcroft, and it's the latter we've been pressing.

Moorcroft (known locally as Malvern Hills) is a very difficult pear to make perry from. Not from a technical perry-making perspective, but simply because they have a tendency to rot and become useless within a few days of ripening. When we had the call from John, the owner of the orchard, we knew it would be a race against time to harvest and press the fruit before it was fit only for the compost heap. It was a race we very nearly lost.

Unlike apples, pears rot from the inside out, which can make it difficult to judge their ripeness. One thing we've learned this year is that when Moorcroft pears turn yellow, normally a good sign of ripeness, much of the fruit will have already started to rot. These pears need harvesting at just the point when they are turning from green to yellow, and this can be in a matter of only a couple of days. As it turned out, we managed to harvest just 7 or 8 sacks-full after rejecting the many over-ripe pears, before whisking them home to be pressed that day in the fading light.

Not a great result, but there was a much more positive end to the day when we checked the sugar levels of the juice. Lat season the average Specific Gravity of the various apples and pears we pressed came out at around 1048, giving a final alcohol level of around 6.4% following blending. This Moorcroft pear juice has come out at a whopping 1070, which could give a final alcohol level of over 9.0% if it ferments to dry. Let's hope it doesn't, since this is above the legal alcohol level for cider and perry, and we really wouldn't want to have to water it down!

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