Parting words: As I learned from the comments on the last pear cider I reviewed, there is a difference between a pear cider and a true perry. This is the former. It’s a relatively dry and crisp, although no one would ever mistake it for a dry English or Norman cider. Pacific Pear has a good amount of pear flavor but still sticks to the Crispin house which is crisp and easy-drinking. This is a fine entry pear cider or good for pounding back at a summer BBQ. Pacific Pear is recommended.
Maker: Dunkertons, Pembridge, Herefordshire, England, UK
Style: Perry (100% organic, heirloom perry pears)
Price: $8/500 ml bottle (Binny’s)
Appearance: Big, fizzy head. Straw-colored with persistant bubbles.
Nose: Yeast, cut fruit wood, lemon zest.
Palate: Dry and funky. Chewy old pears, wood chips, pear syrup.
Finish: Clean with a little funk and tannin on the back end.
Parting words: Dunkertons comes from Herefordshire, in the West Midlands of England, near the border with Wales. They exclusively use heritage cider apples and perry pears. The latter are nearly impossible to find in North American perries. Those pears and the use of wild yeast give this perry a unique farmhouse-cider taste and aroma unlike any other perry I’ve had.
This perry is fairly well-distributed in the US and is an excellent value considering how rare perries like this are. Dunkertons Organic Perry is highly recommended.
Maker: Cidres Dujardin, Jurques, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France
Place of origin: Brittany, France.
Style: Perry (poire en français)
Purchased for $5/750 ml (Trader Joe’s)
Appearance: Medium gold. Fizzy on first pour. Head fades quickly but bubbles keep going strong.
Nose: Canned pear syrup, grated lemon zest.
Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Cut pear with a little lemon juice. Traces of yeast, tannin.
Finish: Sweet but drying. Overripe green pears.
Parting words: I reviewed the tasty Dan Armor apple cider three years ago. This perry is sweeter and less complex (as perries often are) but enjoyable. Sweetness and fruit dominate, but tartness (as it warms in the glass) and tiny whiffs of funk and tannin keep Dan Armor poire from being one-dimensional. It’s hard to ask for more from a $5 perry. Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire is recommended.
Style: Apple cider flavored with apple juice, prickly pear extract, pear juice concentrate and elderflower.
Price: $10/6 12 oz cans
Appearance: Light gold with tiny bubbles.
Nose: Barlett Pear, elderflower, nutmeg.
Palate: Medium dry. Effervescence, elderflower liquer, drop of canned pear syrup.
Finish: Clean & juicy. Slightly tart.
Parting words: As far as I can tell, this is the closest thing to a perry that Blake’s makes , which is a shame. Craft perry makers have an even harder time than craft cider-makers at finding heritage varieties traditionally used for their product. As a result, most perry is made from Bartlett or other table varieties. As a result of that, most American perries taste like watered down, slightly boozy versions of the syrup one finds canned pears swimming in. This leads creative producers like Blake’s to get, uh, creative. While technically apple cider, Grizzly Pear tastes like a quality perry. The elderflower infusion is a nice, floral counterpoint to the strong pear flavor and results in a more balanced product than standard, one dimensional perry. The prickly pear extract is undetectable, at least by me.Grizzly Pear pairs well with pork and spicy chicken dishes, but is best for casual weekend sipping. The price is reasonable.
My only complaint (a big one, actually) is that the packaging is deceptive, perhaps intentionally so. A pear is featured front and center and no mention of this product being flavored apple cider appears outside the ingredient list. The label describes it as “hard cider” but since perry is often lumped together with apple cider, a reasonable person could still assume that this is a perry after reading that description.
I have no problem with funky, Franken-ciders like this but Blake’s should be up front about what this is instead of “stealing valor” from the poor neglected pears of the world. I want to give this a recommendation, but I’m going to have to ding it for deceptive packaging. Grizzly Pear is mildly recommended. Fix this, Blake’s.
Note: Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.
Appearance: Bright yellow with a big fizzy head.
Nose: Fresh cut pear, golden delicious apples, kiwi, papaya.
Palate: Dry and effervescent. Pear peel, Meyer lemon, leather mineral water.
Finish: Drying and slightly tart.
Parting words: Uncle John’s Perry is part of their line of premium ciders including Russet (blend of Russet varieties, with Golden Russet making up the majority), Melded (a blend of English, French and American heritage cider apples), and Baldwin (single variety cider from Lake Michigan Shore apples).
This perry is a source of pride for Uncle John’s co-owner and operator Mike Beck. It’s easy to see why. Many perries taste and smell like fermented syrup from a can of pears. This perry is beautifully dry and gently tannic, all made using Bartlett, the same variety of pears that end up in the can! Mike told me that there are heirloom pear varieties that are intended for use in perry but they are even harder to find than cider apples. If anybody reading this has more information about perry pears, please comment!
Anyway, this is the best perry I’ve ever had. It made me rethink the category as a whole. America needs more good perry! Uncle John’s Perry is highly recommended.
Uncle John’s Cider Mill/Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery is in St. John’s, Michigan 31 miles north of Lansing, about a one and a half to two-hour drive from Metro Detroit. The Cider Mill has been open to the public since 1971 but the Beck family has owned a farm in that location for five generations, growing fruit and vegetables. Their current business is typical of many destination-type cider mills around the Midwest. Cider, doughnuts, pies, jam, farm stands, kids recreational area, local bands, car shows, bicycle races and the like. They have also made wine for many years as Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery. A red and white blends are made but most of the wines are fruit-flavored or 100% fruit wines. They make Concord grape, cherry, cranberry and sparkling peach wines, Cyser, and Pyment.
Apples have always been grown by the Becks on their farm and according to Mike Beck, current co-owner and operator, apples are where their hearts are. They started selling hard cider to the public in 2002, back when cider was small. They were already focusing more on fruit wine, so moving to hard cider was an easy transition. They were one of the first commercial hard cider producers in Michigan so they got a solid head start on the cider boom. They are also one of the few producers nationwide to grown their own fruit. According to Mike, many of the cideries in the Pacific Northwest don’t grow any of their fruit and know little to nothing about growing apples. Uncle John’s takes pride in their long standing “relationship with the apple”. They have 80 acres of apples on site and own another 80 acres of orchards in West Michigan. Uncle John’s also sources fruit from as far north as Leelanau and as far south as St. Joseph’s. There are subtle differences between northern and southern fruit, Mike explained. The northern apples tend to be more acidic (and prettier) and the southern tend to be sweeter. Mid-Michigan apples are the perfect balance of the two (of course).
Mike’s training was almost entirely on the job. He was operating the cider press by the time he was nine years old. He has also studied at Michigan State University and spent time at Black Star Farms, Fenn Valley, and St. Julien, which he praises for their commitment to helping anybody involved in producing wine, cider or spirits in Michigan.
When I arrived, Mike took me through the highlights of their canned ciders and then their premium line. We started with the semi-dry flagship cider (reviewed here in its former can design), a favorite of mine. We then moved onto the cherry which was good, and then the apricot which was very good. The Cherries for the former are estate grown, but the apricots are not (although they are from Michigan). Blueberry, cranberry and pear fill out the rest of the line of fruit flavored ciders. If I recall correctly, the blueberries are Uncle John’s own. The pears are Michigan grown as are some of the cranberries. Getting all Michigan cranberries is harder than it may seem. Michigan is a major producer, but they belong to the big interstate cranberry co-op as soon as they are harvested and are all pooled together.The co-op assures Mike that there are some Michigan berries in the mix. The odd ball (no pun intended) of the canned cider line is Atomic Cinnamon. It’s the standard apple cider infused with Atomic Fireball candies. A review of that one will be coming in the near future. In addition to those, they have cider cocktails available at the tasting bar. When I was there, they had their own version of a spiced Spanish cider punch. It was tasty.
The canned ciders are good family fun (if your family is all over 21) but the premium ciders
seem to be what Mike’s most proud of. They’re all on the dry end of the scale and are all excellent. He said he doesn’t have any particular regional style (English, Norman, etc) in mind when he makes these, he just lets the fruit lead the way. I tasted Melded (a blend of
English, French and American heritage cider apples), Russet (blend of Russet varieties, with Golden Russet making up the majority), Baldwin (single variety cider from Lake Michigan Shore apples), and the award winning perry (from Bartlett pears; they’re especially proud of this one). Look for reviews of the first two and the perry in the next few months. The two I didn’t taste were American 150 (blend from 150 y/o+ cider apples) and Cider Rosé (made from all red fleshed apples). I did pick up a bottle of Cider Rosé, though so expect a review of that one too!
I asked about whether they had plans to make an ice cider, like the one made by Blake’s (reviewed here). Mike didn’t seem to be interested in the idea. He poured me some of their apple dessert wine and said he was fine with that one occupying the sweet end of their range. It’s a fortified wine made using spirits distilled from Uncle John’s own fruit. It was cloying and unrefined but drinkable. I hope Mike reconsiders. I would love to see his considerable skill applied to an ice cider.
Uncle John’s produces spirits too. Mike informed me that their pot still used to be at their facility in St. John’s, but when they expanded it was moved to Red Cedar distillery down the road in East Lansing. When I asked if Uncle John’s spirits were contract distilled, Mike replied, “We don’t actually have a contract, but they do it for us.” Mike oversees the spirits production, but doesn’t distill any of it himself, allowing the expert staff at Red Cedar to do that.
They are currently selling two spirits, an apple vodka and an aged apple brandy. The apple vodka is surprisingly flavorful, tasting more like apple eau de vie than vodka. “I know it’s supposed to be flavorless but…” It made a good sipping vodka, but I didn’t try it in any cocktails. The vodka is made in the big column still at Red Cedar.
We then moved on to the really good stuff, apple brandy. They have twelve barrels aging at the Cider Mill. They have two different types of barrels to age their brandy. Some is aged in toasted French oak (in barrels intended for Calvados) and some in Michigan oak barrels, also toasted. The Michigan oak barrels were sourced by St. Julien’s to be distributed to wineries across the state. Mike prefers the French oak barrels but again credits St. Julien’s with doing a good thing for wineries in the state by facilitating the use of home grown wood in wine and spirits production. It’s a cool thing for a Michigan producer to be able to say that your product has been aged in Michigan oak. Uncle John’s has barrels of brandy as old as 12 y/o but what gets bottled is 2-6 years old. It’s only sold at the tasting room and at a couple restaurants in Chicago. It’s sold in 375 ml bottles. I received a complimentary bottle of the brandy, so watch this space for that review too.
Uncle John’s has more spirits in the works. They are currently working with Red Cedar to develop a gin using their apple vodka as a base. Mike also said they have two barrels of whiskey aging. When I asked him what style they were he said, “I don’t know.” The whiskey originally belonged to Michigan Brewing Company. Uncle John’s was forced to take possession of it in MBC’s notorious bankruptcy. If it turns out to be any good, it will be released.
They have a cozy tasting room with bar for tasting or just buying a drink. As is usually the case, the tasting room also contains a shop. All their ciders and spirits are sold there along with apparel and locally made snacks and other products. A pleasant-looking patio is outside. Uncle John’s is a bit of a hike to be a regular hangout for me, but it looks like it would be well worth the drive from Lansing to spend a warm summer evening relaxing with a glass of cider. Even if you aren’t close, a visit is recommended. Big thanks to Mike Beck and all the other staff for their patience and hospitality.
Nose: Canned Bartlett pears, apple juice from concentrate, leather, fresh fig. As it warms, a faint varnish aroma emerges.
Palate: Tart up front, then the pear and what I assume are tannic quince flavors take over. Some apple juice in the background.
Finish: Tannic, then tart. Long-lasting.
Parting words: Bonny Doon is best known for their cigare volant wine series. Those have weird, UFO-themed packaging, but are serious, delicious wines. Here the weirdness is all in the bottle, not on it. Querry is simultaneously very tart and very tannic but with enough sweetness to keep it drinkable. It’s too extreme to be a go-to, but as an occasional cider or something to share with adventurous friends it works. Pretty food friendly too. 2013 is the current release. A sparkling 2011 is also listed on the Bonny Doon website. Querry is recommended.
Appearance: Bright gold and effervescent. Even some crystals near the bottom.
Nose: Canned pears, apple juice, flint.
Palate: Fizzy and medium bodied. Fresh cut ripe pear, but without the sweetness. Semi-dry, with some mineral water on the back end.
Finish: Crisp and clean at first, but the pear creeps back to linger for a nice long time.
Parting words: Vander Mill is not a Johnny-come-lately winery or agricultural attraction that has decided to turn to cider to fill out its portfolio. It is about cider and has been since its beginning in 2006. As far as I can tell, this is their only perry. The name is from the original 15th century (my favorite century) French name for Bartlett pears. It’s a part of their Heritage series of specialty ciders in 750 ml bottles. The others in that series are the all heritage variety Chapman’s Blend (named for John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, early American apple evangelist and eccentric), Chapman’s Oak (self-explanatory) and Too Gold, a blend of three golden heirloom varieties.
I think this is the first perry I’ve reviewed since the blog started, so I don’t have much to compare it with, but this is a delicious product. It has all the flavor of a good, ripe Bartlett pear, but has an elegant dryness that takes it beyond what I expected. That and it’s great price makes this an easy buy. Bon Chrétien is highly recommended.