Several years ago, Brothers Pear Cider started pouring at the Glastonbury Festival, in southwestern England. It kicked off a renaissance for a drink with a long history in the U.K., said Peter Mitchell, a longtime cider expert and consultant.
As more pear ciders show up on Chicago shelves, it's easy to understand its appeal. Pear cider is a natural summer drink: light, refreshing and not too challenging.
Although apple varieties dominate the American cider market — which has grown 10 to 12 percent annually the past three years— Britain and France have long traditions of using pears in hard ciders. British "perry" and French "poire" are made strictly from certain varieties of pears, which Mitchell said can produce more complex, tropical fruitlike flavors.
"Most simply, traditional perry pears are quite different from normal eating pears. They're fairly inedible," he said. "The old saying goes, 'the worse the pear tastes, the nicer the perry' — and vice versa."
Although Mitchell said some producers are considering growing perry pears in the United States, it takes a long time to cultivate new orchards. Most of what's available locally is made by blending apple cider and pear juice from eating varieties.
Gidon Coll, founder and president of Original Sin Hard Cider in New York, said he experimented on and off for about seven years before finding the right combination of Washington pears to flavor his cider. Launched eight months ago, the cider was a favorite of the ciders we tried: crisp, but not too sweet. Fox Barrel Pear Cider had similarly well-balanced flavor with a nice pear aroma.
We also liked Doc's Draft Pear Hard Apple Cider. It struck us as something you might sub for a riesling; it makes a good match for a spicy meal. Ace Perry Cider — which is spiked with vanilla, according to its maker Jeffrey House — is a good option for those who like a fruity finish.
But we were still curious to try something made fully from pears. So we popped the cork on Manoir du Parc, a French poire. Its golden color was cloudier and darker than the other blonder ciders. It tasted the way a kid might imagine Champagne tastes: a little sweet, but not cloying. We'll serve it at our next brunch. No need to wait for Glastonbury.