Autumn is cider season, but that means more than apple cider. Pear cider is a delicious way to enjoy the season and preserve pears at the same time.
While the process of making pear cider is similar to making apple cider, the taste is as unique as a pear itself. Whether you enjoy pear cider fresh or ferment it into hard pear cider (known as perry), it’s well worth the effort.
How to Make Sweet Pear Cider
Regardless of whether it’s made of apples or pears, cider is made from raw unfiltered juice. Since the juice is pressed fresh, it’ll quickly oxidize and give that characteristic brown color we all know and love from apple cider. Looking at a cup of cider, you won’t know if it’s apple or pear until you taste it.
Once you taste it though, the full flavor of the pears shines through and it’d be hard to mistake pear cider for apple cider.
The trick to making good pear cider is finding good pears. Orchards that produce apple cider commercially need to create a blend of juices, adding different types of apples for the right sweetness, acidity, and body. The juices of the intensely sweet dessert apples we eat fresh make a pretty one-dimensional juice, and the same is true of the table pears we know and love.
Avoid super sweet pears like Bartlett, and ideally, see if you can find an old pear tree from a forgotten variety. Most pear varieties don’t keep long, and you can only eat so many fresh pears before they spoil.
Old-time trees were often selected to make good pear cider, and they’ll have more tartness and acidity. Look for that old pear tree along the sidewalk that’s just dropping fruit and making a mess, and ask the owner of the house if you can clean it up for them. Double win!
If you can only get a hold of super sweet dessert pears, consider adding other fruit for a bit of tart balance. Fall raspberries are a good choice or just a little lemon juice in a pinch.
Regardless of the pears you use, it’s important to press them raw. That’s what makes for cider after all.
We press our homegrown pears on a super efficient double barrel cider press. While one person is pressing the first batch, another is grinding the pears for the next batch.
That said, you don’t need a fancy press for pear cider. This homemade DIY cider press will do the job and doesn’t cost a penny.
At this point, you can drink the pear cider fresh, but you’ll have to be quick. Fresh pear cider will start fermenting on its own in as little as 24 hours. To preserve pear cider, you have a few options.
Canning pear cider is the same process as canning apple cider and will retain most of the flavor. Heating causes some of the volatile aromatics to cook off, and some of the pectin will sink out to the bottom, but it’ll still make a lovely warm mulled pear cider in the wintertime.
Freezing also works, but honestly, I’ve found that freezing causes the cider to separate and the flavor is actually much better with canning.
Since the cider wants to ferment anyway, why not go with it? Try making a batch of homemade hard pear cider (Perry). It’s easier than you think!
How to Make Perry (Hard Pear Cider)
Perry is an old-time drink that’s starting to make a comeback with the rise in craft brewers. My favorite mail-order nursery (Fedco Trees) is now selling a collection of specialty perry pear varieties. From their site:
“While you can ferment any pear juice, the best perry is made from small dry astringent varieties selected over the centuries just for that purpose. Most perry pears are not suitable for dessert or cooking.”
If you’re going to grow specialty perry pears, you have to make a choice and then wait a decade or so for them to mature. While that’s nice for the devoted perry connoisseur, there are plenty of options if you just want to make a high-quality perry from your backyard pears.
Homebrew additives have been developed to add in acid, tannin and fruit sugar for the perfect perry. The only thing you can’t add after the fact is aromatics, but commercial pears tend to be aromatic anyway so that’s usually not lacking.
Perry Cider Additives
- Pectic Enzyme is used for breaking open fruit cells and is used to break up pectin in the cider that will cloud the final cider. Adding pectic enzyme will help release all the flavor from the pear cells right from the start, which will result in a tastier, clearer perry in the end. It’s not strictly required though.
- An acid blend to decrease the overall pH, which helps with flavor and keeps the yeast healthy. A good acid profile will help balance out a sweet perry, and add intrigue to a dry one. Other acid sources, like lemon juice, also work well.
- Yeast Nutrient to feed the yeast, and is helpful when working with fruits other than grapes which might not have all the right micronutrients. A few raisins added to the wine can also work as a yeast nutrient instead of the powdered additive.
- Tannin to give the sweet wine a bit of astringency and balance the flavor. Tannin is necessary to add “body” to a brew, and most table pears don’t have enough tannin to make a good perry.
Without tannin, the finished brew is watery and thin to drink. Brewed black tea, currant leaves and grape leaves can also be used as a tannin source.
- Potassium Sorbate and Camden tablets (potassium metabisulfite) to completely end the fermentation and stabilize the wine before bottling. Most pear juices will ferment to complete dryness unless you either add supplemental sugar or use a stabilizer to kill the yeast before they can eat all the available sugar. If you want a sweet, still perry then a stabilizer is your best bet.
- Brewing Yeast actually contributes a lot of flavor to a finished cider, and you shouldn’t use baking yeast. Natural yeast is present on the pears, but you’ll get a much better (and more consistent) finished product if you use commercial strains of yeast. Champagne yeast is dependable and works well for perry, but there are select strains of craft cider yeast that work even better.
Equipment for Brewing Pear Cider
The equipment required is similar to what you’d need to make any type of wine or cider. For a super small batch, you can use mason jar fermentation kits and make a batch as small as one quart. Here’s more information on making small-batch wines and cider, and here are specifics if you’re interested in making a small batch honey pear mead.
For a basic batch, you’ll need the following:
- Fermentation vessel – Usually either a 1-gallon demijohn or a 6-gallon bucket
- Rubber Stopper and Waterlock (this often comes with the fermentation vessel, but not always)
- Siphon and hose for racking and bottling
- Large Brewing Funnel (optional, but very helpful if you’re using a narrow neck fermenter)
- Bottles and Bottle Capper (or flip-top Grolsch bottles)
Brewing Pear Cider
The basic process for brewing pear cider doesn’t differ from making hard apple cider. Pears have a tiny bit of sorbitol, which is an unfermentable sugar, so pear cider may end up a bit sweeter than hard apple cider.
Beyond that, the main difference is in the aromatics of pear cider. Bluntly, perry tastes of pears.
Start by extracting pear juice from pears using a press or juicer. This is the same initial step whether you’re making fresh sweet cider or going on to make hard cider. Raw, unheated juice will have the best flavor.
Dissolve the perry additives from your recipe (tannin, acid, yeast nutrient, etc) into the juice and get ready for primary fermentation. This initial stage of fermentation can be a bit violent, and some brewers leave the fermenter open for a few days to allow all the foam to bubble off.
I haven’t found that necessary, and so long as you’re not adding extra sugar at this stage I put on a water lock and just make sure to clean it out every 12 hours or so. Often, the cider doesn’t bubble violently enough to reach the water lock and I don’t have to clean anything out at all.
After this violent stage of fermentation, the yeast has begun converting a significant portion of the sugars to alcohol and it’s important to attach a water lock to keep foreign bacteria out. The main concern is acetic acid bacteria that will convert the alcohol to vinegar. Attach a water lock and ferment for 2-3 weeks.
After the primary ferment, the pear cider is “racked” into another container using a siphon hose. This leaves the sediment behind in the primary fermentation vessel and will help clarify the cider.
It also helps prevent off-flavors from anything in the sediment. Finally, the movement of the cider adds oxygen which will refresh the yeast and allow them to kick off a secondary fermentation cycle.
Attach a water lock to your secondary ferment and allow it to ferment until the bubbles slow down and come to a natural stop. This should take 2-6 weeks depending on the yeast and ambient temperature. Or, choose to stop the fermentation at any time with stabilizers.
At this point, taste your cider and choose to add in a sweetener if it’s too dry for your liking. If you add a sweetener, it may kick off a new round of fermentation if you haven’t used a stabilizer. A small amount of sugar can also be added at bottling to create carbonation.
When the cider is finished, it’s time to bottle. At this point, you can use beer bottles, wine bottles or flip-top Grolsch bottles. Allow the perry to bottle condition for at least 2 weeks, but ideally 2 months or more before drinking.
This simple recipe will brew a single gallon of pear cider. Increase the batch size to make a 5-gallon batch in a larger fermenter.
Homemade Pear Cider (Perry)
This simple recipe will brew a single gallon of pear cider. Increase the batch size to make a 5-gallon batch in a larger fermenter.
What do you recommend the specific gravity be when you start the cider. If you need to bring it up would you recommend cane sugar, honey or juice concentrate? Also what would you use to make it a sparkling cider?
Thanks so much
Hi Sue, good questions! There’s a wonderful article by a site called “great fermentations” that covers all parts of your question in depth: http://www.greatfermentations.com/wp-content/themes/greatfermentations/images/blog/2012/04/Cider-Tech-Revised.pdf
They’re talking about hard apple cider, but it’s very similar. Since pears have a tiny bit of unfermentable sugar, I’d err on the higher side as compared to apples. For sparkling cider, we’ve primed bottles with either corn sugar or brown sugar with good results. For bringing up the initial gravity, I like brown sugar, but we’ve also used honey. Honey ferments a bit slower, and I think it adds a heavier mouthfeel at the end.
Amy R. Gentilini
So you mention Pectic enzyme in the blog post but its not in the recipe. at what point in the process do you add this into the cider?
It is typically suggested that you add it to your fermentation vessel before adding your juice and then waiting a bit before adding the yeast.
wayne in Calgary
i have a large pear tree up here in Calgary that has produced alot of fruit which i then used a steam juicer to make pure pear juice, which i have frozen.
i have toyed with the idea of making pear cider, but wonder if the thawed juice is useful for this purpose. If so, what adjustments to the perry cider do you think i might have to make?
Hi Wayne, good question! The thawed juice should be just fine for cider and freezing is not an issue. Since you’re using a steam juicer that cooks the juice a bit and it’ll lose a bit of the nuanced flavor that a raw pressed juice would have. Other than that though, defrost and go at it! I hope it works well for you.
Thomas J Acker
I live in Texas and have the same situation. Frozen fresh pear juice works well for cider.
I plan on trying this recipe with the pears I picked earlier this year. The Perry I made last year had been a disappointment so I need to try something new. Last year I didn’t add any extra sugar or anything. Just champagne yeast and some honey when we bottled to get carbonation. The Perry isn’t drinkable now and I have about 2 gallons sitting in bottles. Do you think I could pour the bottles back into fermentor and add some extra sugar or juice concentrate to boost alcohol and maybe improve flavor of last years batch?
We’ve done just that with some success. I’d pour it all back into the fermenter, add some sugar and pitch new yeast and let it ferment again. Good luck!
How do you know when the pears are ready for pressing
I’m trying this recipe for my first attempt at Perry! I have an enormous sand pear tree at the farm I recently purchased. I had pounds and pounds of fresh pears that I turned into cider with a juicer. I’m at the second fermentation stage and I tasted a bit. It’s very thin. Is there anything I can do to improve the taste or is it just the type of pear that makes it so watery tasting? Will letting it sit help? Thank you for a wonderful easy to follow article!
How it tastes, in the end, will really depend on the variety of pears you used. If the pears are good for fresh eating, then they likely aren’t quite flavorful enough for perry alone. Perry pears are pretty abrasive and generally inedible or close to it. Bitter, acidic, astringent…but all that super concentrated flavor goes really well in the finished perry.
A few things you can do to doctor up the perry now to give it more flavor and body….
– Add honey, which will make it more alcoholic and kick off another fermentation round, but mead (honey wine) has a very thick body and will make it less watery in the mouth. Generally, mead is made with 3lbs of honey per gallon, with no other sweetener (but it also goes up to 20% alcohol). I’d try adding maybe 1/2 pound (or maybe 1 lb) dissolved in a bit of water? Know that this will make it much more alcoholic if you choose to do this, and you’ll need to leave it in the fermenter longer so the yeast can work on that extra sugar.
-The other option is to add winemaking additives to balance it out (tannin powder, acid powder, etc). I have a long discussion of this in my article on apple wine, and you can use the same amounts and instructions. It’s fine to add these in secondary, even though the instructions have you add them at the beginning. Tannin powder, in particular, will help address the “watery” lack of body. Acid will bring out whatever flavor is there.
-Last option, infuse some aromatics (vanilla beans, cinnamon, cardamom or add whiskey/brandy/cordials). If the pears just weren’t flavorful enough to stand up to the fermentation process, you can boost them a bit by adding a few vanilla beans or some other flavoring to help give it more interest. Just drop them right into the secondary fermenter. Be careful with cinnamon, it can be abrasive, vanilla is nice though. Do a bit of research on adding aromatics into secondary and pick a strategy based on your tastes.
Hi I’m making the 5 gallon recipe and was wondering, do you use 5 gallons of pear juice or dilute it half and half with water like other fruit wines? I was just thinking the wine would be too syrupy when its done if its all pear juice but also the juice is more mild in taste than other fruit juices so maybe it would be better to use all pear juice with no dilute.
You will just want to use the pear cider for this recipe with no water added. This is actually a hard cider as opposed to a fruit wine. You will also want to try and find a pear variety that is a little more tartness and acidity rather than a super sweet dessert pear.
Hi I made this recipe but only saw bubbling In the air lock for a day or two, from my experience it usually bubbles for a couple weeks. Is this normal for Perry cider considering the amount of brown sugar used ?
You will definitely see the most activity in the first couple of days.
Once the pears have been juiced shoul I strain the thick froth off the to or leave? Thank you Norma
There is no need to strain at this point. When the cider is “racked” after the primary ferment, any sediment will remain in the original fermentation vessel.
What are your thoughts on using Asian Pears for either hard or fresh pressed cider to can?
Asian pears are often used for making cider. Let us know if you decide to give it a try.
I plan on it! If I want to just press it and then can it…would it be a 20 minute processing time in a water bath canner?
You can follow the same directions for canning apple cider. Here is the link to that post. https://practicalselfreliance.com/canning-apple-cider/
Good Morning, I am going to make some pear wine. pears have been steamed and canned. I’m making a 5-gallon mix and was wondering how much pear juice and how much water should I use?
Pear wine is typically made with straight juice or fresh pears. I wouldn’t know what ratio of juice and water to tell you.
I am wondering if you should add just a little sugar to the bottle at the end of the second fermentation, at bottling, to give this a little natural carbonation, or is it already there in your recipe?
Thank you, Dave
Yes a small amount of sugar can be added at bottling for carbonation.
How much pectic enzyme do you add to your recipe? I did not see where it was mentioned in the recipe.
If you choose to use pectic enzyme in your cider, you should follow the recommendations on the product. The directions should tell you how much to use based on the amount of liquid in the recipe.
What brand do you use for the brewing yeast?
I would recommend using the champagne yeast that is linked in the post or one of the craft cider yeasts linked through the post as well.
My concern with this recipe is that the pear juice wasn’t ‘sanitized’ with campden tablets in the beginning. Is there any fall out from this?
Campden tablets certainly do give you a more predictable product in the end but we really prefer not to use any added chemicals. There is already so much of that stuff in the foods today, so we try to avoid it whenever possible.
I pressed pears about 3 weeks ago and its been refrigerated ever since. Can I still make pear cider with this juice?
It should work fine. The fermentation process is natural and will happen even in the refrigerator but it’s just slowed down.