This document is a discussion of the varieties of pears which are or have been used for the production of perry. For detail on how to make perry, please consult the perry making guide; for a history of perry making and pear growing in the UK, please consult the pears and perry history guide.
Perry quality inevitably depends on the type of pear used. The classification of pears into different categories is more ambiguous than for apples. The best classification is probably that of Pollard and Beech who defined the following categories: Sweet, Medium Sharp, Bittersweet and Bittersharp although they state that the latter category would probably be better named as Astringent-sharp. The citric acid content of perry pears is also of importance, but is not used for classification.
- Sweet pears have low acidity; around 0.2% (w/v) (calculated as malic acid), and fairly low tannin content; below 0.15%(w/v).
- Medium Sharp pears have an acidity of between 0.2% and 0.6% (w/v) and a tannin content of below 0.15% (w/v).
- Bittersweet pears have an acidity of below 0.45% (w/v) and a tannin content of above 0.2% (w/v). Very few pear varieties fall into this category.
- Bittersharp (Astringent-sharp) pears have an acidity of greater than 0.45% (w/v) and a tannin content of greater than 0.2% (w/v). These pears have a penetrating flavour which is very striking since the tannin is astringent rather than bitter. This category of pear is unsuitable for eating (due to the harsh flavour) but makes the best perries.
There is quite a considerable number of varieties of pears, many of which are now very rare. The majority of these varieties can now only be found in the National Fruit Trials collection at the Brogdale Horticultural Trust in Faversham, Kent. Maybe less than 10 recognised perry varieties are still grown for perry making.