*This is the ninety-eighth post in an on-going chronicle dubbed the Great Wisconsin Brewery Tour. Follow the journey here.*
1) How many different beers?
5 on tap, around 8 styles per year.
2) How long operational?
From 1856-1890 they brewed beer; they made soda from 1890 until 1993, then started brewing again.
3) Why? (here, this, etc)
Gray patriarch immigrated from Belfast, Ireland, settled in Janesville.
5) What sets you apart?
Traditional craft brewer.
6) How did you get your name?
Family last name.
In most Wisconsin towns, the brewing heritage can typically be traced back to German roots. Not so in Janesville; the Irish Gray family has been in business here serving beer and sodas since 1856.
The newly reopened brewery-site taproom is small, almost like an oversized hallway, and was packed. Based on the friendly conversations and back-slapping, it was clear this is a popular local hangout.
Behind the counter Jake, a 6th generation Gray, was slinging brews. We tried all five they had available that day.
Busted Knuckle Irish Ale
Extremely smooth. The subtle roasted notes linger long after the juicy opening wash.
Lightly honeyed, bubbly, peppery and crisp.
Rock Hard Red Malt Beverage
Like a boozy cherry ice-cone. Sugary and addicting.
Bitter Shenanigans IPA
Hopped for taste, not for killing your palate. Light drinking and leans Amber.
56 Oatmeal Stout
Well-executed. Toasted oats in a very tasty dark. A gateway Oatmeal Stout.
Gray’s has been a family affair since 1856 when J.C. Gray immigrated from Belfast and started up a brewery in Janesville. Though the beer turned to soda between 1890 and 1993, the 4th and 5th generations turned the taps back on after rebuilding from a fire.
But starting up the brewery again after 100 years was not just a ploy to cash in on a historic family brewing name. As Fred (5th gen) told us,
” A lot of craft breweries are like buying moccasins in the Wisconsin Dells. We are a traditional craft brewer, not concerned with the trends.”
Indeed, I’ve never been to a craft brewery in the States whose flagship beer is an Irish Ale. Every beer Gray had was recognizable by taste and solidly put together.
And though the taproom may be small, I think J.C. Gray would be happy to see the big family feeling throughout the joint; thanks in no small part to the well crafted beers his descendants are still making under his name.