By Gregory Daurer | Jan 24, 2022
When Lin began brainstorming ideas for the name of his brewery, he wanted something that reflected "how it's so collaborative" within the craft beer industry. Although he liked the word "camaraderie," he says it's tough for people to spell, it's got too many syllables, it's unwieldy: "I just shortened it to 'comrade' -- and that worked out," observes Lin.
But the word "comrade" has Soviet-era connotations -- and the brewery hasn't exactly shied away from the association. Comrade Brewing Company takes a "tongue-in-cheek" -- and decidedly American -- approach to Eastern bloc-inspired kitsch, the most notable example being the brewery's logo above its tap handles and on its glassware, where barley and hops form the shape of a hammer and sickle. Beer names include Cold War IPA, Quit Stalin (a Russian imperial stout), and the award-winning Superpower IPA.
Lin admits some people do find the branding controversial. "If you're missing the joke, I think that's on you," he says.
Behind the scenes, the brewery is inherently less about "Marx" than it is about "Marks": lauded head brewer Marks Lanham, that is. After Lanham and Lin met while working at a Texas brewery, Lanham eventually made his way to Barley Brown's in Baker City, Oregon. There, he brought home the Great American Beer Festival awards, Very Small Brewing Company and Very Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year, in 2013. Then in 2019, Comrade Brewing Company won Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the GABF for Lanham and Lin.
The brewery's Superpower IPA won gold that year in the "American-Style Strong Pale Ale" category, and it won silver again in 2020. A fresh-hopped version had already medaled at the GABF, as well, back in 2014 and 2015. "It's really about balance," Lin says of the brewery's creations, most of which run less than six percent alcohol by volume (ABV). "You have one pint and then afterwards you just want another one." That appears to be the case with the brewery's 7.3 percent ABV Superpower IPA: "It's our most popular beer. It accounts for more than 40 percent of our production." Lin describes Superpower as possessing "pineapple, grapefruit, mango" aromas and flavors. "It's a little dank, as well," says Lin. "It's like this classic West Coast aroma."
The brewery also won GABF gold in 2019 in the American-Style India Pale Ale category. Lin has described that beer, More Dodge Less RAM (named for an incident when a truck crashed into the brewery in 2016), as a super-powered, dry-hopped version of its Superpower IPA. And the brewery serves a maltier Irish-style red ale, REDCON, which won bronze in 2018.
The beers are made using 100 percent American-made equipment. The 15-barrel system that Comrade utilizes was fabricated by JV Northwest, Inc. in Canby, Oregon (now known as ICC Northwest). "We got no quotes from any company that was going to source from China," says Lin. "We were just not interested. As an American manufacturer of beer, I think we should also support American manufacturing. That's why we've made the decision to have every single one of our tanks and vessels and the brewhouse be all U.S.-made."
Lin estimates Comrade is one of only three or four breweries in the Denver metro area using totally American-made equipment, rather than any Asian or European-sourced components.
Although the brewery fills glass growlers and aluminum crowlers, here's some equipment you won't find at the brewery: a bottling or canning line. "I think a lot of people are still surprised we don't package," says Lin, "and that really comes down to the sustainability aspect of it."
As of early 2022, Comrade estimated it saved more than 1.5 million cans and bottles along with 261,000 six-pack holders and 65,400 cardboard cases. Refilling kegs is "the lowest carbon-footprint way to enjoy beer," says Lin.
But that doesn't mean that Comrade's beers are totally sold on-premise: "Just over 50 percent of our entire production is going out to bars and restaurants." In 2016, the brewery produced 999 barrels. Last year's tally was 1,445.
Another thing you won't find at Comrade are any hazy or New England style IPAs. "They're just sweet, and they taste like orange juice, and I think people really like them because they don't taste like beer," says Lin. He also describes head brewer Lanham as "old-school," before adding, "He's not really into a lot of the trends and gimmicky sort of things."
Adds Lin of his tastes (and his comrades): "We just like good, clean, drinkable beers."
Favorite beers: Given the pandemic, Lin says, "I haven't traveled more than a hundred miles for two and a half years now." So although it's rare for him to get out for a beer these days, Lin has still had the chance to appreciate a Slow-Pour Pils at Bierstadt Lagerhaus during that time period. "They make great beers," says Lin. Another destination has been Fritz Family Brewers in Niwot, Colorado, where Lin "was really impressed with their lagers up there."
Challenges: "The two big things, just recently, have been supply chain and inflation," says Lin. In terms of the former, that means glassware has been harder to come by. And in terms of inflation, costs keep going up for numerous supplies: everything from malt and hops to cleaning chemicals. Lin says the challenge has become, "How to provide good value to the customer, even though the prices are skyrocketing."
Opportunities: "I think it's still being draft-only," says Lin. "We were lucky, in fact, that we didn't have to start canning" during the pandemic. He notes how "people are social animals" and "still like beer on draft."
Needs: Given the problems that the pandemic has created with shutdowns and mask mandates, "a little bit of certainty," says Lin, "would be nice."