Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Tale of Two Perries

It's getting close to End of Season Report time. We've still got cider and perry available for sale and there's stock put aside for a few important events going into October, but the ciderhouse is little more than a storage area for empty fermenters now. It is of course, little more than two weeks until we start pressing again, assuming the Malvern Hills perry pears haven't dropped much earlier than we expect.

On the subject of Perry, it's been a generally good year for us here at Rockingham Forest Cider, although not without a few difficulties. Getting them all to ferment in the sub-zero temperatures of Winter 2010 was perhaps our biggest problem, although on the up-side, this did lead to most of our perries finishing naturally sweet and relatively low in alcohol, which is no bad thing from a commercial perspective.

The Malvern Hills pears continue to produce a high alcohol, high tannin perry. As perries go it's quite a refined flavour, but the tannin is astringent and mouth drying, and not likely to be to everyones taste. With this in mind I've been experimenting with a new blend, not entirely successfully it has to be said.

It's often stated (without too much in the way of qualification) that some perries simply don't blend well. I've never fully understood the reasoning behind this to be honest. Is it a flavour clash, or maybe just a bit of reverse logic since a fair few perry pears can make a good single variety perry. I think I may now know at least part of the answer...

The thinking behind my experimental blend was to take a low acid, high tannin perry (Malvern Hills), and blend 50/50 with a low tannin, high acid perry (Green Horse), thereby achieving a balance of sorts, toning down the tannin, and perhaps even giving a more complex and interesting flavour. Simple. What could possibly go wrong? Well the blending went well enough, and the flavour was indeed better than the sum of its parts. The tannin is still there, but more restrained, and the acidity of the Green Horse makes for a more drinkable perry. Everything was looking good so I barreled up a couple ready for delivery to a local festival. The problem with this blend became apparent a few days later on the eve of delivery. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, if you mix a crystal clear Malvern Hills perry with an opaque Green Horse perry, what you get is a typically odd bit of perry chemistry, and an unacceptably cloudy perry. The fact that this doesn't become apparent immediately is no help at all. Oh dear!

Polymeric Perry Tannins
Unfortunately, by the time the blend was ready for sale at the festival, it had gone from quite cloudy to quite clumpy, which is not an attractive look in any drink I think you'll agree. I've reason to believe this is down to Polymeric Perry Tannins, a common occurence in perries, and not usually a problem so long as they sink to the bottom, or float to the top as shown in this image of a Blakeney Red ferment. The only thing we could do was apologise to the organisers, remove the offending barrels from the invoice, and chalk the whole sorry tale down to experience.

This simple blending experiment may not be a complete loss though. Another 70 litres of the blend is now sitting in the ciderhouse clearing nicely. Unsightly clumps of rubbery tannin like this are bad news if they're floating around in the perry, but thankfully they have a tendency to sink to the bottom of the fermenter out of harms way. Given a little more time, this blend looks like it will come good after all. The moral of this tale is, be careful when blending perries with very different characteristics, and always blend well ahead of the time you'll need it, rather than the week before!!!

On a much brighter note, I finally got round to racking off this years 'Mystery Perry', the one we make from a late pressing of unidentified perry pears. I have to say, this fermenter has been shamefully neglected. The quantity of gelatinous sediment left behind (see pic) suggests that it may not have been racked before. Even worse, there was a good 4 inches of head space above the perry, which by luck was filled with a blanket of CO2 due to a continuing slow fermentation. I wasn't holding out much hope for this one, but to my surprise and delight, it's probably the best perry we've ever made. Vive Neglect!

Mystery Perry 2010
It's always a difficult task trying to describe the taste of traditional perry. Yes, there's citrus, grapefruit, melon, maybe pear, but perry has a unique flavour all of its own which can only really be described as... well, perry! This years Mystery Perry is 'all perry', and I'm very tempted to say 'all mine'. But no, this stunner had always been earmarked for the East Midlands section of the Cider & Perry Bar at Nottingham Beer Festival. All except for a few precious litres destined for Champagne bottles, which will be staying at home with us here at Rockingham Forest Cider (& Perry).


tania_nexust said...

That's really whet my appetite, and is intriguing - do you really have no idea of the varieties that go into the 'Mystery Perry'? Where do they come from - are they donations or windfalls, or finds somewhere outside your own orchard?

Rockingham Forest Cider said...

The orchard in Worcs where we get our cider and perry fruit from was mostly planted out by the owners (John) father, who's no longer with us. John has also planted a few Dabinett etc. and knows what many of the exisiting trees are, but unfortunately not all of them.

Some of the perry pear trees are huge, and very old indeed. These are likely to have been planted between 100 and 200 years ago, and though we know what most of them are, some are a mystery. I tried to get them ID'd last year at an event in Gloucs, but the expert on perry pears was taken ill on the eve of the event and couldn't make it, so I never got a result. I'm hoping to try again this year.

I do wonder whether the success of this particular perry is as much down to my neglect at racking and not topping up as the varieties. The same(ish) perry last year was very good, but not a patch on this year.