Comrade Brewing Co. claims top honors at Great American Beer Festival

In all, eight Denver breweries won nine medals.

From left: owner David Lin, head brewer Marks Lanham, Jake Lancaster and Rio Urioste of Comrade Breweing Co. team pose with their awards at Great American Beer Festival. Oct. 5, 2019. (Eric Gorski for Denverite)

From left: owner David Lin, head brewer Marks Lanham, Jake Lancaster and Rio Urioste of Comrade Breweing Co. team pose with their awards at Great American Beer Festival. Oct. 5, 2019. (Eric Gorski for Denverite)

By Eric Gorski, for Denverite

The best small brewing company in America resides in a shopping center on the far outer reaches of southeast Denver, in the company of a Jiffy Lube and a Sonic Drive-In.

Comrade Brewing Co. walked away with that accolade Saturday at the Great American Beer Festival’s annual competition, an honor that would be impressive any year but is all the more significant at a time when the craft brewing industry continues to grow and evolve.

“I don’t know what it means,” said owner David Lin, trying to take it all in during a year he became a new father and his brewery experienced flat growth after a run of double-digit gains. “We’ve been in our southeast corner of Denver making beer-flavored beer. There’s been a lot of crazy stuff going on in our industry, different new styles. People still appreciate beer-flavored beer.”

In all, eight Denver breweries claimed nine medals at the competition — including six golds — affording the winners bragging rights, marketing opportunities and perhaps new customers.

It’s no surprise that Comrade’s win was fueled by hoppy beers. Before coming to Comrade as founding head brewer in 2014, Marks Lanham racked up a number of awards for his Pallet Jack IPA at Barley Brown’s Brewpub in eastern Oregon. The beer took gold at the 2013 GABF in American-style IPA — then far and away the most competitive category — propelling the family-owned brewery to the award as very small brewing company of the year.

Lanham took what he learned to craft Superpower IPA, which quickly won praise as Colorado’s best IPA, a “new school” take on the style flush with hop aroma and little upfront bitterness.

Superpower finally got its due on Saturday, taking a gold medal not in American-style IPA but in strong pale ale — a signal of how quickly the style has evolved and changed.

The real stunner for Lanham and Comrade was the gold medal won in American-style IPA — there were a jaw-dropping 342 entries, after all — for More Dodge Less RAM. The beer is a riff on Superpower, with a ton of additional dry-hopping. It’s named for an infamous incident that involved a Dodge truck plowing into the brewery entrance back in 2016.

“I’ve been chasing this for six years,” Lanham said, his two gold medals draped around his neck. “If you’re not trying to make the best beer you can, what are you doing?”

Chad Yakobson (left) and Danny Oberle of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Co. (Eric Gorski for Denverite)

Chad Yakobson (left) and Danny Oberle of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Co. pose with their medal at Great American Beer Festival. Oct. 5, 2019. (Eric Gorski for Denverite)

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s Chad Yakobson also felt a sense of vindication after his Get the Funk Out took gold in the Belgian-style Lambic or Sour Ale category.

The beer was created through spontaneous fermentation, a type of fermentation that takes place with wild yeasts from, say, an open window, as opposed to brewer-cultivated yeasts. The Crooked Stave program is four years old, but Yakobson believes it’s largely flown under the radar among craft beer fans who aren’t paying as much attention to his nine-year-old-brewery.

“We’re old — we’re not something shiny and new,” Yakobson said. “The long lines that we used to have (at festivals and events), it just moves over to something else. There is a new young beer drinker that doesn’t know about Crooked Stave … This beer was a labor of love. In a state with a lot of sour breweries, this is really humbling.”

Denver’s other GABF medal winners:

  • Denver Beer Co. continued its impressive run of GABF success, winning gold in the wood- and barrel-aged beer category for a beer called Amburana Dream brewed at its Arvada taproom. It was DBC’s seventh GABF medal.
  • Zuni Street Brewing, which opened its popular taproom in 2017 in a former oil change shop in northwest Denver, won gold in Belgian-style witbier for Way West Wit.
  • Good River Brewing took gold for Fu Fighter in Belgian-style strong pale ale, not the first award for the beer.
  • Wit’s End Brewing, for the past two years brewed at Strange Beer Co. in a unique brand-sharing arrangement, won silver in Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest for Lindauer Lager.
  • It’s always great to see industry OGs win recognition. Is there a more Colorado-sounding beer than Vine Street Pub and Brewing’s Yonder Mountain Stout? The brewery that celebrates stouts every February won a silver in oatmeal stout for this beer.
  • Bruz Beers opened a couple of years ago brewing Belgian-style beers in Denver’s new Stapleton-ish Midtown development (all right, it’s in Adams County but we’re going to look the other way here and it’s a Denver address). With such a niche, there are only so many categories to compete in so it’s no doubt nice to get to win silver for Séréneté Grand Cru in the Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale or Belgian-Style Quadrupel category.

Eric Gorski is a Denver-based journalist. He co-founded The Denver Post’s First Drafts blog and has written about beer for BeerAdvocate, Draft Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and PorchDrinking.com.

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