Saturday, 16 January 2010

Woodchuck Cider (Pear)

Recent times have been good to pears. Not since the days of Babysham
has the fruit been such a powerful force in the world of booze. Sales of so-called "pear cider" have risen ten-fold in the past couple of years, led by brands like Magners, Brothers, Gaymers and Kopparberg. I'm a big fan of the Swedish Kopparberg in particular - quite sweet but very refreshing (no ice needed) but until recently my top choice was Woodchuck Pear, from Vermont, which has the sweet and the sharp working in harmony like a fine pear orchestra. I say "until recently", because I recently discovered that Woodchuck isn't even made from pears - it's an apple cider with added "natural pear flavoring". Is it unreasonable for me to feel cheated by this revelation? Can it really be a pear cider if the pear is merely an afterthought?

It turns out that controversy reigns in pear matters in a way probably unimagined outside the pear fraternity. A lot comes down to labeling. The traditional name for the pear-equivalent of apple cider is "perry". The National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) says a perry must be made from at least 75% pear juice (25% apple being tolerable). This is where things get complicated. Magners, for example, has based an entire (and entirely nauseating) advertising campaign around the claim that its pear drink is made from "100% pear" (a campaign mocked to death by Stewart Lee). But while the juice from which it is made may be all pear and no apple (or guava, for that matter), is that enough to secure it perry status? In a word - unlikely. The NACM prohibits the addition of sugar, colouring and flavouring, while Magners' fondness for sugar, colouring, malic acid and sulphites is a matter of record.

the purists, like Camra
, any industrially produced, carbonated, sugary substance is out of bounds; snubbed as nothing more than fizzy pear juice for the "inexperienced or undiscerning". For them, a proper perry must be produced naturally, from perry pears only, and neither carbonated nor pasteurised.

Where all this leaves Woodchuck's prospects, I'm not sure. Pear-shaped, presumably.


  1. Woodchuck doesn't do American ciders justice (regardless of their pear one not being made from that much pear). The stuff is rather sweet and thus for me difficult to drink. There are lots of micro-cideries popping up that do things in the style of Normandy and one that I visited that had a product at every interval of the Brix scale.

  2. Can you remember which one you visited? I'll clearly have to try a bit harder on my next visit. And thanks for introducing me to the Brix scale - never come across it before, I must admit.