The first time anyone asked me if I’d like to try jerkum, I said: “jerkum? I hardly knowum.”
Well, I thought it was funny.
What I was being offered was a drink similar to cider, but rather than being made from apples, jerkum is traditionally made from plums (ideally, from a variety of plum called the Warwickshire Drooper), although it can technically be made from other stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, and a few other drupes with enough sugar to convert into alcohol during fermentation. (A drupe is a thin-skinned stone fruit that has a seed in the middle of the pit.)
Jerkum can be sweet and sticky, or dry and crisp, and thanks to the high syrupy sugar content of stone fruit the alcohol can get quite powerful, so it isn’t uncommon to be blended with cider to drop the alcohol and tame the acidity. At least that’s what I’m told.
To be honest, like so many things we taste when we’re too young to know what we’ve got, I have to admit that I didn’t savor the moment and had no idea that I may never have the chance to taste jerkum again. I had no idea how rare and hard to find it truly is outside of a small pocket of England.
A common libation of northern Cotswold (which you might recognize for its cheese), and particularly popular in the county of Worcestershire (which you might recognize for its sauce), jerkum is as English as Hugh Grant, grilled tomatoes, and driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s so hyperlocal that those residing outside of Cotswold might not have ever tasted it, sort of like Cheerwine to the Carolinas, or Old Style to the Chicago area.
When I received an email from Stateside Crafts on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls answering my question about their favorite specialty items that they think people should try, my jaw hit my keyboard with a drooling thwack when co-owner Patrick Homa answered that he has jerkum.
“I occasionally stock varieties made with peaches and nectarines. They are tart and bright and bubbly and drink a bit like a white wine or Champagne.” Homa tells me in the email.
Patrick Homa, with his partner Dawn Nadeau, opened Stateside Crafts at 4242 Atlantic just over seven years ago in December of 2014. The idea came to them after a trip to Nadeau’s home of Michigan to visit family.
The two recalled spending a day wandering Traverse City. If you’re not familiar with the geography of Michigan, Traverse City is the tip of the northeastern corner of the lower peninsula, which is shaped like an oven mitt; but all one needs to do to find Traverse City on a map is simply look at the palm of your right hand and then touch the top of your pinky finger.
Known as the cherry capital of the world, Traverse City is also known for orchards of apples, pears, stone fruits, and berries. And when you have that much fermentable fruit growing all around you then somebody is going to ferment it, which is why Traverse City is also known for its many, many cideries.
The two wandered into one such cidery and for the first time tasted cider as it is in England, dry and crisp, quenching and tart, not the sticky high fructose corn syrup version we generally see in the grocery stores here, and they thought “maybe we should bring cider to Long Beach.”
When they returned from their trip they started planning a shop showcasing real cider. At the time, however, they weren’t sure Long Beach was quite ready for an all-cider bottle shop, so they decided to start with craft beer and slowly add the ciders. (This was long before Ficklewood Ciderworks opened on Broadway.)
Located between Dutch’s Brewhouse and Cheese Addiction, I nearly walked right past Stateside Crafts when I went in to buy my first taste of jerkum in far too long. I would have completely walked past the shop had I not noticed the festive Christmas decorations in the window, which at the time of this writing seemed out of place since Valentine’s Day was only four days on.
Patrick is quick to greet you when you walk in and instantly makes you feel totally welcome as if he’s actually happy you’re there, unlike when you walk into many other shops where you’re greeted with a nod from behind the screen of a phone.
He can talk at great length about nearly every specialty item in the shop, from small production wine, to craft mustards, to hot pepper vinegar, to Seersucker dark chocolate salted ganache. But mostly, he can talk beer and cider and knows the history of every brewery he stocks in the line of coolers that stretch the length of the room.
While I had set out to relive my teenage jerkum experience, I also discovered a few other things that were both exciting and interesting enough for me to stop and text a friend. You see, not only does Stateside Crafts have jerkum in their arsenal of oddities, but they also carry Perry.
Perry is the same as cider, but rather than being made from apples it’s made from pears. When fermented completely dry it can be bright and clean tasting, and as aromatic as Champagne.
The excitement was so overwhelming I had to reach out to an English ex-pat friend who was equally excited about the find as if I had discovered a long-lost care package from Manchester. His excitement faded, however, when I told him that the quaffs I had found were made not in the UK, but right here in California and were in fact not authentic.
Crafted by Mission Trails in Monterey County, I was personally not deterred. I was looking to find a flavor I hoped to be distantly sweet, quenching, clean, and hopefully similar enough to what I remembered to cause sensory memories to come flooding back to me.
In addition to the jerkum and perry, Patrick also recommended a third bottling from the same producer who made cherry “crackler.”
The term “crackler” rang a bell when he showed me the bottle, but remembering the origins of “crackler” was like trying to place a song that’s going through your head of which you can only remember one note, and the rest of the song is on the tip of your tongue. I couldn’t place it and took to Googling right there in the store with no luck.
It was only after I got home and went into my old wine notes that I was able to remember the vague, very American, popularity of crackler.
Crackler is/was the American term for when you drink wine while it’s still fermenting (it was much more popular in the 50s). The fermentation process creates CO2 thus the carbonated sensation on the palate is prickly, or crackly. The pressure of carbonation is lower than a traditional sparkling, leaving a softer sensation that you would experience were you drinking a beverage carbonated with secondary fermentation or CO2 injection. The term for bottling before the fermentation is 100% complete, to be finished in the bottle, is more commonly known in the wine world as petillant naturel, or “pet-nat.”
Since Stateside Crafts is primarily a craft beer shop, I couldn’t leave without grabbing at least one item that had hops. A double dry-hopped cider with Nelson and Motueka hops. The collaboration, called “Doubles,” was between Shacksbury Cider and Modern Times brewing.
Mission Trails Syndicate Plum Jerkum ($9.99): A vibrant pink shade veering into purple, and nearly opaque in color, the tone resembles watermelon candy. The appearance follows through on the nose with winey fruit notes of fermentation – sweet and sour with hints of vinegar—with a red fruit undertone that dangles the aroma of strawberry Now & Later candies. Slightly prickly, there’s a keen sizzle of fine bubbles from the natural secondary fermentation. A tart bite hits you on the attack (the first taste) followed closely by slightly sweet red fleshy summer plum notes with hints of eucalyptus; tangy black plum skin flavors linger against the rear of the palate. A touch out of balance with wafts of alcohol that plume as you exhale, along with gentile barnyard hints of Brettanomyces, this jerkum is admittedly a tad on the sticky side, but ultimately the finish is clean and crisp and lingers with notes of honey, cranberry, and oddly enough a touch of grape crush.
The taste is similar framboise lambic, if you’re into those, but without the malty undertone.
Mission Trails Ranch House Perry (9.99): Golden straw in color with earthy notes on the nose that bob between freshly sliced bruised Bartlett pear skin and a dense forest tree bark aroma. On the palate, once the prickliness falls away, the texture is creamy and tingly, with notes of un-oaked chardonnay and honey crisp apple, while at the same time being stony and mineral-driven. The perry is a little meatier than champagne, so perhaps it’s fair to say its’ more similar to a prosecco.
Perfect for something different if you’re hanging out on a boat or by the pool for an afternoon with a charcuterie board of cured meats and semi-firm cheeses mixed with a few hard cheeses, sliced fruit, and olives. (Which can all be found next door at Cheese Addiction.)
Shacksbury / Modern Times Doubles ($3.99): Golden in color with a head of foam similar to a beer that quickly dissipates. On the nose there are notes of honey and lemon with hints of tangerine veering into orange sherbet. Soft on the palate and creamy in texture, this mineral-driven hybrid has the idea of the sweetness one would find in wheat ale, albeit with slightly higher acidity. It finishes clean, and if I didn’t know it was made from apples I would think it was beer.
Stateside Crafts is at 4242 Atlantic Ave. 562-352-8988 Wednesday-Saturday 12-8 p.m. Sunday. 12-5 p.m. statesidecrafts.com