Beer, Cider & Perry
Words by Paloma Alos
Beer, cider and perry are fermented alcoholic drinks, each with a colourful and lengthy history of production and consumption. Enjoyed today as much as centuries ago they form part of the social culture in a number of countries around the world.
Believed by many to be the oldest fermented drink, beer is today the world's third most popular drink, after water and tea, and the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage.
Beer is made from water, starch, yeast and hops and produced through a process called brewing whereby the starch source is turned into sugar (saccharification) which then undergoes fermentation, resulting in alcohol. The type of starch used will largely determine the strength and flavor of the beer and the most common starch source is malted barley or wheat. The length of time roasting the grain and the temperature will affect the colour of the malt. Darker malts will result in darker beers. Hops are used to flavor the beer with bitter notes and additionally act as a natural preservative. Other flavours may also be added, from fairly commonplace fruits to the more bizarre such as pizza, seaweed, coffee and coconut.
Beer is typically between 4% and 6% alc./vol. although it may range between 0.5% and 20%.
A truly global drink, enjoyed around the world, beer is produced by a vast range of producers. From well-known brands owned by the dominant global breweries, to local neighbourhood brewpubs and micro-breweries, the category is constantly experimenting and evolving.
Cider is another alcoholic drink made through a process of fermentation. The key ingredient in cider is apple juice. With an alcohol strength typically in the range of 1.2% to 8.5% alc./vol., cider is particularly popular in the UK, which has the highest per capita consumption of cider in the world.
The drink is also popular within many other European countries, including Ireland, Poland, Spain and Germany.
Ciders come in a variety of flavours, from dry to sweet. Their appearance can vary also, from pale yellow to orange to brown colour and from cloudy to totally clear. These variations in colour and clarity are mostly due to filtering between pressing and fermentation. The type of apple used will also have an effect, with some varieties producing a clear cider without the need for any filtering.
Cider can be either sparkling or still. The sparkling varieties closely resemble sparking wines in appearance and is the most common type of cider produced in mass. The darker and cloudier ciders are usually stronger and can be described as the more traditional type of cider, often produced in smaller batches by local breweries.
A similar beverage to cider is perry. Made from fermented pears rather than apples, it is sometimes marketed as pear cider, although this name is not recognised by some organisations as the name for the traditional drink.
The history of perry goes back centuries, and it has been a common alcoholic drink throughout this time in England, particularly in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire as well as in part of south Wales and northern France.
While there are similarities between traditional perry making and cider making a couple of important differences is that the pears must be left to mature for a period after picking and the pomace is left to stand after initial crushing to lose tannins.