13 November 1998

Late Treacle, prince of all perry pears, found at last

THE discovery of a rare perry pear in Glos has brought a sparkle to the eyes of cider maker Kevin Minchew.

The Late Treacle tree was thought to be extinct in Britain, until he found a possible example while collecting fruit from the orchard of one of his suppliers.

Kevin first learned of the lost Late Treacle when he heard a description of it from a group of dedicated West Country nurserymen who had been seeking it for years. The group, led by Ray Williams from the Cider Institute in Long Ashton, near Bristol, was determined to locate all 65 varieties of pear trees used in bygone days to make perry. The only one to prove illusive was the Late Treacle. Then Kevin made his discovery in an orchard a few miles from Tewkesbury. Specimens of the leaves, fruit and bark, have all be examined by Ray and he is 99% sure that the nine-year search is over.

&#42 Access to fruit

Kevin is delighted. He explains: "Not only do I know the location of the rarest perry pear tree in the country, I also have access to the fruit. This year, because of the frost and winds in April, it only yielded a handful of pears – it never produces an abundant crop but two seasons ago I was able to make 17gal from the fruit, producing one of the most distinctive perrys I have ever tasted".

Kevin has been making cider and perry on his parents smallholding since 1984, experimenting with single and mixed varieties of exclusive cider apples and perry pears to create his unique brews. The names of pears such as Malvern Hills, Taynton Squash, Greenhorse, Blakeney Red, Rockbutt Gin and Huffcaps, roll off his tongue with ease. Mention cider and hes off again with Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill and Dabinett. All these fruits are harvested in the traditional way. Kevin says: "I went into commercial production in 1992, selling wholesale from the farm gate and supplying local pubs and delicatessens as well as attending real ale festivals.

"My cider and perry is not scrumpy but a high grade premium product from traditional fruits. With some production I blend the varieties, with others I use a single variety to create the desired taste."

&#42 Bumper crop

His best year in production terms was 1994, with a total of 7000gal. "We had a bumper crop so we had no choice but to keep on pressing, but my target is not volume – its quality. Anyone can make rough cider. Farms have been producing it and workers drinking it almost since the days of Adam. I am putting all my effort and knowledge into creating top-quality ciders and perrys from dedicated varieties so that when the cork is pulled they are treated as a fine wine – not quaffed by the pint."

Kevin, sporting the traditional smock and hat, is without doubt a ciderman to the core, his enthusiasm for his craft spilling out as flowingly as the juice from his press, as he tells of his high hopes for the fruits of the secret Treacle tree. "The taste and quality of the perry from that single tree was totally unique. We shall never be able to produce a great deal of perry from it. In a way this is an advantage. It will create a supply and demand environment in the way of vintage wines where we can command a much higher price.

"I feel that it is my cultural responsibility to move cider and perry up the social ladder to grace dining tables everywhere – I want it to become the countrys claret."

Mike Charity