By Leslie Kelly
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Move over, IPA. Lager is about to blow up as brewers take an artisan approach to this easy-drinking beer. All About Beer magazine reports that more small breweries across the country are getting into lager making, as more beer drinkers "are learning that lagers can be full of flavor, subtlety, and complexity." Here's how one venerable Northwest-based brewery is giving lager craft brew cred.

Nick Crandell, the brewer for Redhook, and his team have been playing around with various lager recipes for a couple of years. "We wanted to do something different, something inspired by some of the great lagers out of Germany," says Crandell. The mission was to create a maltier lager, but the challenge was replicating the mineral content of something like a Dortmunder Export. "Our water in the Northwest is soft, so we added some minerals," Crandell says. "That really brings out the flavor of the malt and the hops."

New this summer, a lager from Redhook that's made with a craft brew approach. Photo by Leslie Kelly

What Is Lager?

It's easy to get the impression that the ubiquitous golden "king of beers" is easier to make than ale or stout, but the process -- called lagering -- is actually more complicated and time-consuming. "It's like the difference between making a chocolate cake and a white cake. When you make a lager, it's harder to hide any mistakes," Crandell says. Fermentation of malted grains and hops takes place from the bottom, rather than top down, a more gentle, gradual process. And after it's fermented, it's cooled for an extended period of time to create that crisp quality that makes it so sip-able.

Mixing Beer Cocktails with Lager

The bright, clean, yet complex flavor of Redhook's Extra Special Lager also makes it a fine foundation for beer cocktails like the crazy popular Beer Margarita, pictured below. "It's an easy candidate for adding flavors. It doesn't have a lot of bitterness," Crandell says.

Another bonus to a better-made lager? Food pairing's so super easy. "It doesn't clash with anything. I don't think there's any wrong answers when it comes to what to serve it with, though it works really well with spicy foods like tacos," says Crandell, who adds that ESL is only available in Washington state. Expect a wider distribution soon as the word spreads about this lager's appeal. It just won a silver medal at the prestigious North American Beer Awards. Cheers to that! In the meantime, if you want to try going in another direction with your fave lager, check out these cooking with beer recipes.

Beer margaritas are a fine way to use lager. Photo by Leslie Kelly

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