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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Let's get fruity episode 3 - Pear!

Time for the big one.... Pear! A huge review of 14 pear distillates! Easily the most voluminous round of the series.

France is well represented in our mini Pear Euros (with a USA wildcard)! At the time of writing 5 of these countries are still in the 'other' Euros. I wonder if that will still be true when I post it on Monday evening!

What's this all about? In case you missed it, here's my introduction to this crazy summer series.

The pear round is dominated by one variety - classic Williams / Red Williams (or Bartlett) pear. However, we also have a few interesting more unusual varieties on test from Capovilla, Kolonko, and Capreolus.

A fruit that lends itself to juicing and fermenting, so naturally a common fruit used to make Eau de Vie - indeed 13 of the 21 producers in the series are represented today.

I'll be looking for a full complex flavour - fresh bright pear with a backbone and hints of bitterness that reflect the skin, the stalk, even the orchard. I want to be transported to a pear orchard in peak autumn.

The world's greatest distiller? Quite possibly! An inspiration to others? Most definitely!

Capovilla (or Capo)'s life has taken a path that even he couldn't have predicted. Driven by curiosity and passion, this Italian gentleman has taken an obscure interest and grown it into an expertise. From novice to maestro.

Half a century ago, Gianni travelled regularly through Austria and Germany for work and became fascinated by the prevalence of distilling, and home distilling, in villages and towns along his route.

He brought home to Italy a desire to distil his own grappa, and, gradually over time, all the parts to build a still capable of doing this.

His first attempt was in 1975, distilling pomace on a small still he'd reconstructed in his garage. Later he had a custom-made double bain-marie alembic still built for him, and after 10 years of experimentation, he produced his first commercial batch of grappa. 

Over these years Capo spent weekends and even holidays with distillers he admired. Watching, listening, and learning

His university was central European distilling heritage.

His teachers were the old traditional distillers with generations of knowledge passed down and often undocumented.

Capovilla's home is on a 4-hectare organic farm - this is the source for a lot of the incredible fruit he uses to produce Eau de Vie and Grappa.

If a fruit doesn't excel in his home area, Gianna researches where it does, and tracks down the best farmers - or the best places to forage wild.

We are the benefactors of these 50 years of experimenting and learning. Of Capo searching for the perfect fruit, in the perfect condition. Learning the precise moment to harvest and to process. The ideal moment to remove stones and stems.

Pressing each different fruit requires a different process. Ideally a different machine. If the right one didn't exist, Capo built it himself!

Capovilla grappa & eau de vie are presented in simple, unadorned, clear bottles - it is very literally, all about the juice.

*Not completely unadorned - there's a beautiful tree on the labels :-)

A humble man. With an infectious joie de vivre.

Often perceived as bored at PR events and formal functions, fun for Capo is getting his hands dirty, harvesting a new fruit, or experimenting with new (and often very old) distilling techniques.

Capo is also responsible for the magnificent Rhum Rhum distillation project in Marie Galante - I recently reviewed all the Rhum Rhum 'Integrale' releases side-by-side here

I feel fortunate to have briefly met Gianni on a couple of occasions. :-)

And now for the tasting. I'm starting very early as I expect it to take most of the day. To avoid palate fatigue I'm reviewing them in batches of four & five, with a break in between each batch. Followed by a final re-tasting of the winners - to ensure I've given each of them a full side-by-side comparison.

Each round will be poured and given 30 mins to breathe before nosing & tasting.

Assisted through the day by Glasto on the telly :-)

As with the majority of the lineup, this distillate from R. Jelínek in the Czech Republic is made from the Williams variety of pear.

Presented in their distinctive broad squat bottles, this is one of Jelínek's regular lines, widely available across Europe.

Located in the Vizovice region to the east of Czechia - another important pin on our fruity map. Thanks to its ideal climate for growing fruit trees, the area has a long and passionate relationship with fruit distillates. Jelínek alone now maintain around 200 hectares in the Czech Republic and is expanding far and wide - the majority of their pear production now being in Chile!

Nose: Plenty of power here. Decent pear with a cherry stone core. Apple & pear skin. Clean quality fruit. Alcohol is not hiding ... aggressive but manageable. A heavy dose of fruit vinegar and some bitter tannins. Pear fruit core dunked in scrumpy cider. And a good whisp of smoke. A very good nose.

Mouth: A smidge thin at first, which was a letdown from the nose. I was promised big and bright fruit but got a slightly watered-down version. More time offered more rewards and the taste became fuller. Some nice fruit skin bitterness maintains a decent length finish. Calvados like boozy warmth. Shame about the initial entry because otherwise it's very good with clean, quality pear flavours. [81+pts]

Another continuous release of Williams pear distillate. The first of 4 pear distillates from France.

After a strong showing in the Quince round, I have high hopes for this Metté bottling.

Nose: A solid start. Spicy, dry, and green. Well-integrated alcohol. Decent soft pear notes Not a massive nose, but beautiful, delicate, fresh, floral, and inviting.

Mouth: Bright, citrusy. Almost effervescent. A very fresh profile. Some decent pear although it's only the bright notes and maybe lacking the gritty depths. A little fruit acid compliments the freshness. I'm enjoying it a lot, and would certainly recommend it - natural pear sweetness just not quite offering the huge flavours or complexity of the big hitters [85+pts]

Our sole entrant of the entire series from the USA. This pear brandy comes from an old and important San Francisco distiller.

Founded by Jörg Rupf in 1982 before 'craft distilling' was even conceived, St George was a trailblazer - at that time there were only 20 distilleries in the US, now there are over 2000.

This pear Brandy, their flagship spirit since 1982, is widely available ... even in the UK. Disappointingly diluted down to 40% - let's hope the result is still bold and intense.

Nose: My sample is cloudy. Not sure if it's supposed to be, it's from Masters of Malt and the bottle they advertise is completely clear. Let's plough on and have a smell... Decent pear nose with a hefty smattering of spearmint. Salty, menthol and a bit floral. Not massive ... it needs a bit of fuel injection, but what's there is good. And is very much pear in the lead. [later developed a heavily oxidized odour]

Mouth: A bit thin at the start, watery pear juice. Starts to pick up and get fruity then veers off to a bitter and finally off-wine grappa taste. Missing all the markers, it's pretty unpleasant. Down the sink for you. [Not scoring this - it would be low 70s at best but I am concerned about the quality of the sample]

Our second visit to Hungary's Bestillo distillery. After a poor showing in the apricot round, I'm hoping this Red Williams Pear Pálinka has a cleaner, bolder and more complex profile.

Nose: Sweetest distillate I've smelt in this series. Candied pear. Apricot. Very buttery too. Artificial smelling - like pear sweets, or fragranced hot towels. One-dimensional and a bit sickly, not working for me. A little glue pops up later which improves but doesn't rescue things.

Mouth: Nice light fruit start. And decent mid-palate. Too thin but nothing bad. Finish has that sickly artificial taste from the nose. And then ends rather abruptly. How rude. Oh well, I wasn't enjoying it anyway. [77pts]

Pálinka number 2. Another Red Williams Pear distillate. Sziecsek was a step up from Bestillo in the Apricot round, will they maintain that with the pear spirits. Available in 200ml or 500ml bottled, as well as in boxed sample tasting sets, these Pálinka are beautifully presented in tall slender bottles.

Nose: A very different nose. Musty, and spicy. Oily and complex. A touch of vanilla and dried fruit. It's very enjoyable - I'm just wondering where the pears are??

Juicy salted plums. A fat nose with sharp fruit acid in the background. The salinity is making it quite dry. Cautiously optimistic about the taste...

Mouth: Starts thin but builds. Very salted butter, pear and creamy zest. A fat taste at the front but a gap at the back of the mouth. Short sharp finish. Moreish and makes you want to go back for more. [82+pts]

Our second visit to Gölles. This Austria distiller has been on a mission to produce the finest fruit distillates since 1979.

Throughout August and September, perfectly ripe Williams pears are washed and sorted, the stems & seeds removed and then crushed ready for fermentation.

A 1-2 week fermentation in steel vats turns the sugar into alcohol. This 'wine' is then double distilled in traditional copper pot stills. Carefully separating the hearts from the heads and tails, only selecting the finest cuts for their spirits.

The distillates are rested for 2 years in glass balloons prior to bottling. An impressive 16kg of pear are used to make each litre of this Eau de Vie.

Nose: Considerably bigger and punchier than many others. A whack of pear and alcohol hits you immediately. With a momentary flash of fermenting fruit. Quite spicy and aggressive, I would have guessed this to be a much higher abv. Mostly pear flesh flavours, with a little grape must and menthol.

Mouth: Big. And Spicy. You get to enjoy the fruit, and the juice, and are left with lovely dry bitterness like you fished some pear skin out of the bottle and are left chewing on it. An intense, pungent and well-integrated flavour. And a stunning long finish. We're here for pear and this delivers. Pear drops, pear skin, pear flesh, pear juice, delicious [88+pts]

The first of two pear Eau de Vie from today's profiled distiller. This one is a super rare bottling released as part of a Capo trio to commemorate Velier's 70th anniversary.

This intriguing juice was produced from the unusual, and only recently officially recognised, Madernassa pear originating from Roero in Piedmont, Italy.

Distilled in 2004 this was rested, in steel tanks, for a massive 13 years before bottling in 2017 at 43%.

Velier lists this as a release of just sixty of the 500ml bottles but I suspect that's a typo and the actual number is more likely 600. Rare stuff that I'm looking forward to trying.

Nose: Big and bright. Very different to the others. This has a mouthwatering funk. Bright & wild. Lychee and tropical notes. A rotten fruity medley that I would never pick as pear Eau de Vie. Very salty! Brine and plenty of astringent vinegary fruit must. This smells like a cane juice rum after a very long fermentation. Mixed with a splash of old calvados. Complex and inviting. I'm having to hold myself back from tasting it as I have to nose them all first.

Mouth: A lovely thick texture - mouth coating. Complex stuff, weird at times. A bit of fruit must, plenty of old fruit vinegar, hints semi-oxidized wine, and salty brine. I'm enjoying the weirdness - tastes venerable too, the 13 years of resting have softened it, melded the flavours beautifully, and added an unusual salty funk. I could spend a while with this and keep finding more. The lip-licking finish is not super long, but tasty and pleasantly unusual. Culminates in a moreish bitterness. [87pts]

Capo pear number 2. A limited batch 'vintaged' release from the maestro. This one is bottled at a healthy 45.5% abv.

An eau-de-vie made from Williams pears from South Tyrol. As mentioned in today's profile, Capovilla is recognised for his high standards when selecting, growing or foraging fruit, and for his mastery of distilling techniques used to extract and preserve the quintessence of the fruit.

Nose: Wow - pear, pear pear. Smells like I fell in the fermentation tank. The biggest and brightest nose of the heat. A nose with texture - I can smell that grittiness you get with pears. Warming, boozy, and incredibly inviting. A really impressive balance between sweet juicy fruit and a dry, almost bitter background of a deeply perfumed pear orchard.

Mouth: Glorious! Bright and mouth-filling. The perfume is everywhere. Cheek coating tannins. And a long long dry moreish bitter pear skin finish. Unlike the Pera Madernassa this is classic pear - and lots of it. The insane quality, and enthralling pear experience, give this an easy win for its heat. [90+pts]

A special drop from the winner, and profiled distiller, in the quince round.

A step away from the standard Williams pear... Perry pears, used to make the pear equivalent of cider - endemic to Gloucestershire in the UK but sadly now largely viewed as uncommercial. Capreolus sources all the pears for this Eau de Vie from within 30 miles of the distillery. A blend of distillates from 2 types of pear; processed separately to suit the characteristics of each fruit. Helen's Early, floral & citrus - fermented for a massive 19 weeks, and Brandy - rich, rounded & earthy.

Nose: A very different nose here. Rich, buttery and opulent. Quite grassy with a little almost woody vanilla. Highly perfumed and floral. Faintly medicinal. Very different from the Williams pear profile, this is a green, fresh nose with tinges of menthol, anise and cane juice. A nose for the agricole rhum lovers. Stunning.

Mouth: Rose petals, menthol, bright and floral. A spectacularly moreish, super clean taste. Chewy texture. Ripe, and exceptionally juicy. There's less fruit acid and less bitterness than other's I'm tasting. Mindboggling stuff - you don't drink it, feels more like you absorb it. A killer finish that runs for over a minute. I could immerse myself in this stuff for hours. A crisp, sweet and sour, orchard celebration. [90pts]

A very limited release from uber micro artisan distiller Johannes Kolonko.

These little treats, in their beautiful 200ml bottles, are made from small Wahlsche Schnapsbirne pears. They are only gathered once they are fully ripe and have naturally fallen from the trees onto the soft grass. Mashed, without stem or core, before long fermentation and pot distillation.

The history of this pear variety begins in the 70s with a wild pear tree in Erich Wahl's orchard on a railway embankment near Schwäbisch Hall. Unfortunately, this unique pear tree fell victim to the chainsaw during an extension of the railway embankment. Fortunately, however, some shoots had been cut in advance and thus the variety could be saved. The pear was named "Wahlsche Schnapsbirne" in honor of Mr. Wahl.

Nose: Incredible perfume. As with the Capreolus, this is a very different profile to the Williams. Raw, grassy, faintly medicinal, hints of furniture polish, glue and resin. Spectacular stuff. Meaty, earthy and complex. Bright, fresh green fruit. Made from a pear variety I have no previous experience of, happily this distillate seems to be providing a seed-to-tree-to-fruit experience. Immersive stuff.

Mouth: An explosion of fruity flavours. Naturally sweet, like a bomb went off in the best-ever sweet shop. Candied ... pear drops and other old-fashioned sweets, yet not a hint of any artificial tastes. Full-flavoured, stunning and totally unique [88pts]

Our first bottle of the series from the highly acclaimed French producer. Located on the magnificent Cordais plateau in the southern region of Midi-Pyrenees. Cazottes produce a range of artisan wines, liqueurs, and of course Eau de Vie.

For this pear distillate, the pears are left to over-ripen for an extra month maximising the sugar content. They are then sorted, cleaned, and the stems, seeds and eyes removed before crushing by hand and allowing the slow natural fermentation to begin. With only the natural yeast from the fruit, this takes over six weeks to produce a low alcohol 'wine' ready for pot distillation.

More on them later, as I'll be profiling Laurent Cazottes in a future article.

I'm tasting this from a 500ml bottle and have just removed the impressive wax cover to reveal a glass stopper - rather sexy on the tall slender bottle,

Nose: Oh yeah, that's lovely. Mouthwatering pear with incredible grip and depth. Waves of old fermenting pear juice. There's a wash of unaged cane rum-like glue and acetone that I've not noticed elsewhere. (actually, it was there is a different way on the Capo Madernassa). Weirdly it's like pear glue - it works perfectly. And some rich deep fruit acid - not sharp at all, just holding the natural sweetness in focus. Candied pear held together with perfect depth and acidity. Very impressive.

Mouth: Sparkles on your tongue. You can taste it all around your mouth. Citrus zest. Good balance of natural sweetness and acid. Big full pear flavours and a lovely long finish. Quite dry, due to the fruit acid, and yet juicy too - like I've just bitten into a pear. I feel like I'm getting the whole fruit here - might have to spit a pip out in a second. A big chewy, moreish sweet & sour pear flavour. Impressive stuff. [90+pts]

Produced & distilled at La Salamandre distillery in rural Dordogne region of France.

Selected and bottled by the highly regarded bottler Swell de Spirits, this limited-release single batch of 300 individually numbered bottles is presented at a punchy 49%.

Nose: Ferment! Fermenting fruit. Fermenting vegetables. Even some fermenting cheese. Quite extraordinary. This is wildly different from all the others. The fermenting, even slightly curdled dairy is interesting although not exactly inviting. Reminds me of salty Chinese fermented tofu. Hard to get past all that and find much pear.

Mouth: Starts wonderfully. Bright sparkly stuff. A vibrant fruit medley. Pear, fermented berries, dried berries, blackcurrant syrup, a real symphony. Runs to a long finish which is mostly delicious but just occasionally shows glimpses of curdled dairy. It has an impressively big taste that I'm enjoying and will enjoy the rest of the glass. Unfortunately, the nose takes a lot away. [82pts..TBC]

NB: The flavours on this sample are a long way from what I expected, and from what I've heard elsewhere. Please take these notes with a pinch of salt (or a pinch of cheese), until I've been able to re-taste a new sample and update my tasting notes.

Our second visit to Hepp for another incredibly well-priced fruit distillate.

Nose: Lively, zesty, floral. Heavily perfumed but lacking a little depth. Enjoyably spicy. It's arguably a touch thin but has no bad notes. Clean spicy pear. Overall very impressive for the price.

Mouth: Starts with a lovely splash of fruit which fades quickly but leaves a long and enjoyable clean light pear skin bitterness on finish. No hiding, it's pear distillate and it's very good! Not massive flavours, but a quality Eau de Vie. Unbelievable value. [81pts]

Our second visit to this highly regarded Austrian distiller. Located in Salzburg, the generations-old distillery was re-homed in 2004 into a spectacularly renovated 500-year-old farm building.

Produced on small copper pot stills, Guglhof's distillates are fully natural with no added flavours or sweeteners.

Limited 'vintaged' releases are long rested before release - the one being reviewed was distilled in 2019.

Nose: Attention-grabbing stuff. All the fruit you could want. Layers of pear ... sweet juice, bitter skin, fruit acid, pear must. Heady stuff. A touch of salt and good depth. It's making my mouth water. A hint of sulphur as the glass moves away.

Mouth: Imagine a pear melting in your mouth, drips of molten boozy pear juice. Really lovely. A rollercoaster of pear flavour that runs on and on. Impressive texture, really coats your mouth. Super long finish. Delicious. A big pear profile that ticks all the boxes. [88pts]

Conclusion: 6 distillates made it into the final. This second tasting included Capreolus, Cazottes, Guglhof, Kolonko, Gölles and Capovilla (Pere Williams)

Just missing out on the medals were Guglhof, Gölles and Kolonko. The Kolonko is unique - super special and complex with a delightful natural sweetness. Both Gölles & Guglhof are top examples of classic William pear Eau de Vie.

Picking a winner from the 3 C's - Capreolus, Cazottes and Capovilla has been about as much fun as a spirits reviewer can have on a Sunday afternoon. Three very different but equally amazing distillates,

Cazottes and Capovilla are classic Willams; Cazottes a touch greener, more raw and acidic. Hefty natural sweetness is pulled into focus by a swirl of pear vinegar.

Whereas the Capo is juicier, fatter and riper. A big cuddly pear embrace.

And the Capreolus is a whole different experience. Silky, classy, floral. Super clean - a faultless drop. On tasting side-by-side I prefer the more rusty, gritty Williams profile but this is amazing and worthy of the high 90-point mark.

An impossible call between gold & silver. The nose was the tiebreaker - the smell of Capovilla Pere Williams is quite spectacular. Although (and I poured a glass for comparison) a smidge behind Capovilla's bronze medal quince!

Next week, a much more manageable line-up, four raspberry distillates... and a profile of a fascinating uber-specialist (relatively) new brand Strawbar.

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