Jon Zerivitz On Beer
Written By Elinor Spokes Photographed By Justin Tsucalas
Walk into most liquor stores these days and you might notice, in addition to a large selection of wines and hard liquors, an equally large and dizzying array of beers and ales.
With labels that look like works of art and clever names, a new wave of microbrews and craft beers is gaining popularity and shelf space. Offered in a variety of tastes and styles, these specialty brews can complement foods and create exciting pairing opportunities in fine dining.
Beer aficionado Jon Zerivitz insists he is no expert on this topic, but between starting Union Craft Brewery in Hamden next year and his self-taught encyclopedic knowledge on ales and brews, he sure seems like one. He says his love for craft beer began after graduating from Pikesville High School and enrolling at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
“Everyone had really good beer, even at fraternity and campus parties. It opened my eyes to the fact that there were good beers out there, not just yellow, tasteless, fizzy liquid,” he says. At the time, northeastern Massachusetts had a number of good microbeers being produced in the region.
“After college, I continued to seek out good beer,” this Lutherville resident adds.
Despite the economic downturn, the microbrew industry continues to grow and gain market share, remarks Zerivitz. “People love variety and there is a lot of excitement in the industry right now.”
Microbrews, or craft beers, refers to beers that are produced by smaller breweries that make limited quantities. These beers come in many different varieties and styles, according to Zerivitz.
The on-line authority beeradvocate.com defines beer styles as a “label given to a beer that describes its overall character and oftentimes its origin. It’s a name badge that has been achieved over many centuries of brewing, trial and error, marketing, and consumer acceptance.”
Ales, meanwhile, tend to be heavier in taste and generally higher in alcohol. Lagers are lighter, crisper and lower in alcohol. An “IPA,” which is an acronym for India Pale Ale, is the most popular in craft beers, notes Zerivitz.
Many IPAs are produced in bottles comparable to the size of a conventional wine bottle, as opposed to single serve beer bottles, suggesting that the beer is meant to be shared and consumed in one sitting. The ideal serving temperature for the brew is cold but “not super ice cold,” says Zerivitz, because he finds that if the beer is too cold, the flavor cannot be fully noted.
When pairing food with beer, Zerivitz’s rule of thumb is to match the flavors in a dish with the flavors found in the beer. IPAs intensify the flavors of dishes with a bit of heat, such as Mexican, Indian, other spicy food and even food accented with citrus.
If a dish is roasted, caramelized or braised, pair it with a beer that is darker and deeper in malt flavor, with caramel or coffee flavors, such as an Imperial Russian Stout. The Imperial Russian Stout is intense in flavor and has a higher alcohol content.
Wheat beers, which are brewed with wheat as opposed to barley and are fermented with Belgian yeast, are very effervescent. Therefore, these beers are great palette cleansers and are a nice choice to begin a meal or pair with lighter foods such as fish dishes.
Another option are Saison Ales, often referred to as Farmhouse Ales. Made with an open fermentation process, they produce a less refined, bit yeastier taste, which Zerivitz calls a “barnyard” flavor. “Saison,” which is French for season, is the name given to ales which were brewed seasonally in farmhouses in the French-speaking region of Belgium and were produced for consumption by the farm workers.
Today, this style of beer is produced in other countries and has become quite popular in the United States. Its robust flavors can be paired with foods with an equally bold taste.
To complement the full flavor of barbequed food, Zerivitz recommends pairing with beers that have a smoky flavor, such as blonde ales. With steak, a “hoppy” Pilsner would be best. For fish, lighter beers, a light lager or Saison, will not overwhelm the delicate taste of the dish.
Another very distinctive style of beer is the Lambic, brewed exclusively in Belgium. It is old-style, aged in barrels, blended like wine, with a sour, cider-like taste.
“This style is great with cheese or even dessert,” adds Zerivitz,” but takes a bit of an acquired taste.”
German beers have a lot of flavor and also go well with cheeses. Fruitier beers, like some varieties from Japan, go well with foods with fruit reduction sauces.
Finally, if creating a flight of beers to complement an entire menu, Zerivitz recommends starting with lighter beers and getting heavier throughout the meal.
For recommendations or other information on brews that will agree with your personal palette or menu, Zerivitz advises checking beeradvocate.com . He also suggests, going into a liquor store “you are comfortable with and know what flavors you love and ask for help in finding beers that you will like.”
“Microbrews are about being local and fresh, and consumers and brewers alike care about these issues. With the variety out there, beers can be enjoyed and savored with food just like wine.”