CAMRA obviously campaigns for real ale, but did you know that it also campaigns for real cider and perry? Most people have an idea what cider is, but mention perry and they’ll either think you’re referring to Babycham or they’ll just look at you blankly.
Real cider is an old traditional drink produced naturally from apples and is neither carbonated or pasteurised. Unfortunately, real cider is in a similar situation to that which faced real ale some 30 years ago with the number of outlets for real cider is diminishing, even in the West Country. The situation with perry (which is made by a similar process, but from pears) is more worrying, as it is rarely available away from the farm where it’s made. As a result of the difficulties facing these drinks, CAMRA set up a cider and perry committee within CAMRA to let drinkers know about the choice of real ciders and perries available and to encourage the producers to continue making them.
Many of the most well-known ciders in Britain are cold, fizzy keg products which have been produced artificially rather than naturally. Perry is in a worse position as it is even losing its name: a lot of pear-based drinks are being sold in bottled form under the name of ‘pear cider’. The explanation is two-fold: firstly, they don’t want their product to be associated with drinks like Babycham or Lambrini; and secondly, a lot of people don’t know what perry is anyway. And yet perry has been common for centuries in Britain, particularly in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and in parts of south Wales, and France – it is not a new drink.
So what’s in a name? If people are now drinking more of it, does it matter whether it’s called pear cider or perry. Well, if it were just a question of the name, then I don’t suppose it would matter much, but that isn’t the case. Most of the pear cider produced is actually not the same as perry, but a cider-style drink flavoured with pear concentrate, whereas perry should be made by traditional methods from pears only. So pear cider is actually a seriously bastardised form of perry.
Why have they done this? The big cider manufacturers have seen the craze for keg cider collapse and were desperately scrabbling around to replace lost sales. The result was pear cider, which has proved to be very popular, but like most fad drinks, the bubble will burst sooner or later. In the meantime, while pear cider sales have gone through the roof, real perry is still a niche product, rarely available outside the areas where it’s made, except when it’s on sale at CAMRA beer festivals.
Most people aren’t accustomed to real cider and perry and make the big mistake of drinking it like beer because it’s usually served like beer. Real perry and cider have more in common with wine than beer, both in the way they’re produced and in their strength. They can be up to 8 or 9%, almost the same strength as some German wines. You wouldn’t down a pint of Liebfraumilch like a pint of ale, would you? Well, perhaps you would, but only if you weren’t planning to make a whole evening of enjoying drinking.
It is well worth tracking down some real ciders and perries, and more people are discovering for themselves how deliciously mellow, aromatic and varied the flavours of naturally produced real cider can be. The problem is that there are very few outlets for real ciders in this part of the country, and no more than a handful in the Southport and West Lancashire area.
CAMRA has introduced a new window sticker for pubs (pictured); it’s intended to help pubs by telling their customers that they sell real cider. This in turn will raise the profile and increase sales of real cider, and support pubs so that they stand out from other drinking establishments – important in these difficult times.
CAMRA beer festivals always have a range of ciders and perries that you can try. Your next chance is at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, which runs from Thursday 9th to Saturday 11th September in the Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord Street, Southport, PR8 1NZ. For more details of the festival, click here.
As for local outlets, I'll produce a list soon in a future posting.