Expanding Territory Not a Growth Strategy for Gray Brewing

Being ingrained in the community can be a lifeblood for smaller breweries that don’t see to grow past the people that can be a part of a brewery’s livelihood. That’s been the case for Janesville, Wisconsin’s Gray Brewing, which has been a six-generation facility that opened in 1856 as a beer brewery and has been back at brewing beer since 1993 after a 98 year gap of making a variety of sodas.

“We are focusing staying in the community  that being Janesville and Madison, Janesville primarily,” said Fred Gray, who runs the brewery along with his son Jake. The brewery reported 1,500 barrels of production in 2016.

“It’s the approach we had for years and it bears fruit because there is always going to be the guy that tries to make more money with marginal sales by coming into our state or expanding into our area,” Gray said. “It’s not my cup of tea, it’s not what I do. We are at the rate we want to run. We have a good staff, half or more have been here 20 plus years.”

A modest taproom is the first thing a consumer sees while heading to the Janesville facility, a city about of 64,000 located 40 miles southeast of the Wisconsin state capital. The brewery also has a brewpub in Verona, near Madison.

“The taproom (in Janesville) is … looked as place to just let people in the community or area driving through to peek behind the covers,” Gray said. “We aren’t big into barrels or how many states we are in. It’s not our thing. We are about making the best beer we can possibly make.

“We are pretty much plateau where we are. We do what we do. We don’t over market, we just do our own thing and don’t follow trends and it works. We are here.”

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Although most of the brewery’s beer is sold through its distributed bottles, Gray thinks many breweries are going to work closer to home and have less impact outside of its communities, especially for smaller production breweries.

“Caring about how many states you are in, it’s a foolish thing,” he said. “If a fellow brewer asks me how many states I am in, I know right away that they are in it for the wrong reasons. Right now, you see a huge influx of people jumping into the business and I don’t know what the shakeout will be, but there will be [a shakeout].”

Gray said his children are getting more involved — Jake was bartending while Brewer sat down and talked with Gray over one of the original beers they started with, “Busted Knuckle” Irish Ale, while daughter Sarah is also involved with the brewery — but he admitted that if running the brewery a different way suited them, he would be all for it.

“That’s up to them. It wasn’t pushed on me, I’m just here now. There is no owner…if the next generation wants to do something with it…fantastic,” he said. “Whether it’s my children or niece of nephew, if they have the passion for it. Then it will be there.

“There is never going to be a cash grab. Whatever happens after me, there are no regrets.”

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