Pear in the Bottle
by Charlotte Hsu
Chateau Buffalo partners up with New York businesses to produce a cider/brandy with a unique twist
If it were possible to distill the magic of René Magritte into a liquor, the resulting beverage might resemble Chateau Buffalo’s artisan pear brandy and cider blend. A full-grown pear sealed inside each bottle imbues the champagne-colored concoction with a distinctly surrealist flavor.
“[Customers] say, ‘I’ve never seen that before. How do you get the pear in the bottle?’” says Carl Schmitter, co-owner of Chateau Buffalo, the Hertel Avenue wine shop and tasting room that partners with other New York businesses to produce the drink. “I think they’re thinking of the ship in the bottle…They look at it once and then they look at it again, and they say, ‘Is that a pear in a bottle?’”
Schmitter’s establishment, co-owned with his wife Suzanne Maciejewski, is by no means the first to offer such a novelty. French distilleries have long bottled pears with liquor under the name poire prisonnière. Oregon’s famed Clear Creek Distillery sells a colorless pear brandy called eau de vie—literally, “water of life”—with a whole fruit in the bottle.
What sets Chateau Buffalo’s product apart is that it’s crafted with New York ingredients. Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in the Hudson Valley makes the brandy. Blackman Homestead Farm in Cambria provides the cider from homegrown Bartlett pears. Schmitter brews the juice with yeast for several months in a steel barrel in his store. Local artist Mary Stephens McGinnis hand-paints a glittering white buffalo and a half-dozen metallic pears on labels that add charm to each bottle of finished product.
And those pears behind the glass? Those come from Cambria, too. Bob Blackman, a fifth-generation farmer, and his daughter Julie Blackman have grown the fruits inside the bottles for a few years, though they have only partnered with Chateau Buffalo on the brandy and cider for the past two.
The idea for cultivating captive pears was Julie Blackman’s. While searching online for a birthday gift for her father and for new items their farm could produce, she discovered Clear Creek Distillery and its curious bottles of eau de vie, along with a Michigan distillery with a similar product. After investigating the peculiar fruit, the Blackmans began experimenting early one June, sliding pears the size of a fingertip into recycled wine bottles suspended from trees with baling twine.
“You have to tilt it to keep the elements out, rain. And occasionally you’ll get insects in there but they do seem to leave after a while,” says Bob Blackman, a man whose voice, deep but quiet, complements his neat, white beard and thick, tanned wrinkles creasing his face. “We worked with it for a couple years, and then met up with Carl and [a business partner] Erwin Rakoczy and got talking about trying to do that with pear cider, perry, they call it.”
This summer, the Blackmans grew about 120 bottled pears for Chateau Buffalo, the great majority being of the Bartlett variety. The family harvested the bottles in late August and passed them off to Schmitter, who cleans each one with water and a potassium metabisulfite solution that is commonly used in wine and food preparation and preservation.
Try it yourself
Where: Chateau Buffalo, 1209 Hertel Ave, 873-0074, www.chateaubuffalo.com
Price: $49.99 a bottle
How: Best served chilled. Enjoy as an after dinner drink or pair with a dessert.
Last week, in a back room at Chateau Buffalo, Schmitter finished this year’s final batch, filling washed bottles with brandy and hard cider and plugging them using a floor corking machine. While whimsical, the pear-in-a-bottle concoction isn’t for wimps: The alcohol content is 21 percent, a concentration that helps preserve the fruit. The drink is fiery as a result, off-dry with grace notes of pear topping a sharp brandy flavor.
Trapped behind the glass, the pears, a brilliant green, behave mysteriously. Some drift to the tops of bottles while others stay anchored to the bottoms.
“I’ve found,” Schmitter says, “that most of them do float, but occasionally we do get a sinker. They tend to float or sink right away.”
Inside Chateau Buffalo, the curious beverage shares a shelf with an assortment of more conventional wines. The display, behind a tasting counter, isn’t ostentatious even by the standards of this low-key store. And yet, those whole pears—suspended, as if by magic, behind glass—draw the spotlight with their surrealist flourish, inviting, always, a second look.
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