Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Since it was founded in 1856, Gray’s Brewing has been a family affair. That hasn’t changed during the tenure of Fred Gray, who currently sits at the helm of the Janesville facility.
Gray, a 1984 graduate of Craig High School, started working fulltime at the brewery that carries his family name in 1988. Today he runs the company alongside his wife, Sue, daughter Sarah and son Jake.
What has changed is how the brewery at 2424 W. Court St., Janesville, continues to evolve with the times. Along with the addition of a new tasting room and several flavors to its beer and soda lines, Gray’s also launched a brewpub, Gray’s Tied House, 950 Kimball Lane, Verona.
For more about the brewery’s history, products and more, visit visit Facebook.com/GrayBrewingCo. (a new website is coming soon at GrayBrewing.com). For information about the Verona brewpub, visit GraysTiedHouseVerona.com.
1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Like most kids, I idolized my father and thought that growing up to be just like him would be the greatest thing. Then I went through the typical fireman, policeman, boy thing. I’m really glad I went with my first instinct. I’ve been a very lucky person; I worked side by side with my father for over 30 years.
2. Name the one item you own that you could not live without? I hate to say it, but a cellphone. Just ask my wife.
3. What are the most and least fun things about owning a brewery? The least fun thing is terminating an employee. My father always explained to me that we aren’t firing them; they fired themselves—we just pick the day. But it’s always hard. The most fun is when someone truly enjoys what we’ve created at the brewery. You can always tell when they’re sincere, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.
4. Have you ever been to a movie so bad you walked out before it was over? “Joe Versus the Volcano.”
5. Do you have a favorite brand of Gray’s beer? I like all of our beers. I am a traditional brewer. I want my beers balanced, so that is how we brew. I am partial to our Oatmeal Stout; the rich flavor has never disappointed me. I really enjoy many brands of beer. I always taste what others are doing.
6. If someone else paid for the experience, would you go bungee jumping? I would not. You understand that gravity is a strong force, and bungee cords have their limits. I am fairly certain that I would exceed any of those forces.
7. You have the brewery in Janesville and Gray’s Tied House in Verona. Any other expansion plans on the horizon? I do have a brewpub in Verona; we built it to honor the 150th anniversary of our company. The only expansion I would like to do is offer a better facility in Janesville. I’ll see what the next few years offer and if there is interest from the next generation.
8. If you’re not drinking your own beer, what is your beverage of choice? Jameson—it’s an Irish thing. If you don’t understand that, you most likely never will.
9. In Germany, people drink beer at room temperature. In the U.S., it is preferred ice-cold? Why? Beer is best served at the temperature you like. On a hot day, an ice-cold Honey Ale is awesome. The idea is that a beer at warmer temperature or even cellar temp has the greatest depth of flavor; all of the flavor notes are pronounced. If something is too cold, you don’t taste it as well. The same can be said if something is too hot.
10. Which is worse: mowing grass on a hot, humid day or shoveling snow in freezing temperatures? I have to be honest—I really don’t know. My wife loves to shovel and mow, and I would not begrudge her that enjoyment.
11. What’s the deal with foam, and why is it important? Foam is important for a few reasons—all sensory. First, beer with a nice frothy head is visually more appealing; it looks like it has life. Second, the hop aromas are better carried by the effervescence of the natural releasing of carbon dioxide. Finally, the smooth pillow texture of the foam prepares the taste buds for the anticipated euphoria of flavor.
12. What fruit or vegetable do you absolutely hate? Coconut. Can’t stand it. I have never liked it, and there is nothing to like about it.
13. Who comes up with the names for your beers, and how are they developed? Usually, we decide on a style of beer that we think is interesting and challenging, and then we sit around the tasting room and drink beer. Then we think of all the things we would call it but can’t because the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) would never allow it, and a certain amount of people would be offended because they wouldn’t get it. Then we just settle on the last normal one out. It’s one of the hardest things to do.
14. What is your middle name? Is there a meaning behind it? My middle name is Rennick, the same as my father’s. I was told by my grandmother that it is a name that came from Ireland. Besides my father, my son and myself, I have never heard of it before.
15. If price weren’t an issue, what ingredients would you most like to experiment with in brewing a new beer? When myself or the guys at the brewery want to try something, we do it; it’s not a price thing. I’ve made some interesting, in my opinion, beers and just sell them for what we sell our beer for. It has become fashionable for brewers to build a up a “special beer” and mark the price way up to make consumers feel like they are exclusive to something. We do something special for St. Patrick’s Day every year and then have it available for our friends. We don’t charge any more than we do for anything else. Actually, most of it is sampled out.
16. Can you name three professional wrestlers, past or present? Can I?! Hell yeah! Blackjack Lanza, Scrap Iron Gadaski, Ivan Putski ... I could keep going.
17. What song about beer is your favorite? “There’s a Tear in My Beer” by Hank Williams. An absolute classic.
18. When and why did the company decide to start brewing soda? I have to be honest—it wasn’t my idea. My great-great-grandfather started it. Rumor has it he made the best ginger ale in world.
19. What is your worst habit? Sarcasm. I have certain way of dealing with things, and often I am sarcastic. I’m not trying to put someone down or intimidate anyone: I’m just humoring myself. Some people just don’t get it. Life is not that complicated.
20. Do you feel pressure to brew beer styles that are trending? No, I do not. I have had plenty of people try to get me to, but it’s not my thing. I really want to make the best beers I can. To do that, I have to brew what interests me and what I like, and I can’t digress from that. Things go bad for breweries when they lose their identities. I have no delusions of being anything more than what I am.