There are, it turns out, many different ways that one can add pears to a cocktail and nary a spirit on the planet that it doesn’t mix well with. The fruit can be used fresh, blended into a puree and stirred into a drink, or you can experiment making cocktails with pear brandy. Both will add rich pear flavor to seasonally-appropriate cocktails.
A fresh pear is a glorious season-straddler, ripening after the stone fruits of summer have come and gone, but before citrus season is in full swing. There are thousands of different types of pears, but the most common and readily available are the Anjou, Bartlett, Concord, Seckel and Bosc varieties. Because the fruit bruises easily, it can be difficult to find a truly ripe pear at the market, but you can speed the ripening process by storing them in a brown paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas emitted by a ripening banana will in turn cause the pear to ripen.
Once ripe, you can peel and core the fruit and puree the flesh. You might need to add a little sugar if the fruit is high in acid or a touch of lemon juice if they’re overly ripe. The resulting puree can be used in myriad ways, such as this easy Spiced Pear Bellini or this Pear & Elderflower Collins. There are also several brands of frozen pear puree on the market which are actually very good or, in a pinch, you can buy some decent pear nectars at almost any corner store or supermarket.
For a more intense flavor, you can poach your pears in a simple syrup flavored with warming winter spices such as clove, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and nutmeg. Once softened, the pears can go straight into a blender and whizzed into a Poached Pear & Ginger Daiquiri. The pears could also be served as dessert, splashed with a bit of pear liqueur to amp up their natural flavor.
Speaking of pear liqueurs, there are many on the market. My favorites to keep an eye out for are Rothman & Winter, Marie Brizard, Belle de Brillet, Massenez, Berentzen and American Fruits. For the most intense pear flavor, however, you’ll want to seek out a clear pear brandy, known as Poire William. Grouped under a wider category of fruit brandies known as eau de vie, these are typically served well chilled, as a digestif. Because they require so much fruit to produce a single bottle, eau de vie can be expensive. The good news is that a little in a cocktail goes a long way. Look for bottlings from St. George Spirits, Hans Reisetbauer, Massenez or Jacopo Poli, as well as one from Oregon’s Clear Creek distillery, which has been a staple at every bar I’ve run for years, rearing its head this time of year in fall cocktails such as the aptly named Apples & Pears.
As a base spirit, Hangar One make an awesome spiced pear vodka, or one could even turn to Calvados, one of the unsung heroes of the brandy world that has its own appellation in France’s Normandy region. Calvados is an apple brandy, but there is a smaller sub-appellation, called Domfrontais, where by law the brandy must contain a minimum of 30 percent pear cider (the balance, of course, is apples). These Domfrontais brandies are a lighter, more elegant and aromatic spirit that is delightful in cocktails or on its own. Look for the brand Le Morton.
One of the best drinks I’ve ever tried with this product is the Falling Leaves, created by Audrey Saunders, an owner of the famed Pegu Club in New York. To make it, Saunders stirs pear brandy with honey syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and, in a stroke of genius, a good slug of dry white wine, like an Alsatian riesling or pinot gris.
My own ode to pear spirits is a drink simply called “Autumn.” Designed as a stirred drink, like an Old Fashioned, it’s a combination of pear brandy, applejack, sherry, maple syrup and apple bitters, served with a fat ice cube. But the cocktail is versatile, and could be warmed and served as a toddy, with a wedge of lemon alongside.
Yes, fresh pears and pear liqueur are both excellent additions to cocktails, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fruit’s long history as an ingredient in hard cider. Quality hard ciders, both apple and pear varieties, are experiencing a renaissance right now, and great bottlings from excellent producers abound, including Sonoma, Fox Barrel, Hogan’s and Doc’s, as well as a life-changing pear cider from Eric Bordelet in Normandy.
Whether you use the fruit in its fresh form, add a bit of potent liqueur into a cocktail or simply enjoy a glass of pear cider, it’s what to drink right now.
1. Poached Pear & Ginger Daiquiri
Poaching pears in a simple syrup flavored with warming winter spices such as clove, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and nutmeg produces an intensely flavored fruit that can double as dessert. Once softened, the pears can go straight into a blender along with rum, lime juice and grated ginger, and get whizzed into this delicious drink.
2. Apples & Pears
This cocktail, created by Charlotte Voisey, combines apple-flavored vodka, lime and pear juices, and a vanilla-nutmeg syrup with hard cider and Angostura bitters to produce a profoundly autumnal drink.
3. Pear & Elderflower Collins
The classic Tom Collins receives a brisk update with a double whammy of pear liqueur and pear puree, plus lemon juice, elderflower liqueur and honey, while club soda lengthens the cocktail with some refreshing effervescence before a dusting of freshly grated cinnamon adds a final touch.
4. Falling Leaves
Created by Audrey Sanders of the late Pegu Club, this drink is what Naren Young calls "one of the best drinks I’ve ever tried" with Poire William eau de vie. To make it, Saunders stirs pear brandy with honey syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and, in a stroke of genius, a slug of dry white wine such an Alsatian riesling or pinot gris.
Young's own ode to pear spirits is a stirred drink that combines pear brandy, applejack, sherry, maple syrup and apple bitters. The cocktail is versatile, and he suggests it could be warmed and served as a toddy, with a wedge of lemon alongside.
6. Spiced Pear Bellini
Pear purée plays a leading role in this autumnal brunch drink created by Young, where it's combined with pear brandy, pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg and, of course, sparkling wine for that festive effect.