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Happy 150th!

Sept 1, 2006 - When you've been in business for 150 years, you realize that one of the constants is change.

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Through economic highs and lows, World Wars, deaths, prohibitions and fires, Gray Brewing of Janesville, Wisconsin has reinvented itself over the last 15 decades to carry on its production of beer and other beverages.

"We've been resilient because we've always been small," said Fred Gray, who represents the fifth generation of the Gray family to own and operate the company. "We've always kept it at the right size to feed our families."

That philosophy has served many family meals since Joshua C. Gray founded the company in 1856.

Empty bottles wait to proceed down the fill line at Gray's Brewing in Janesville on Thursday. The family owned company is 150 years old and plans to start a new venture with a brewpub.

Later this fall, the philosophy will be tweaked once again as Gray starts feeding other families. The company will open Gray's Tied House, an "American Bonfire Grill and Brewery" in Verona.

"It will be a brew pub with a great menu where people can go and relax and feel at home," Gray said.

"Is it a leap of faith to get into the restaurant business? You bet, but it's a gift to the business," he said.

The family-owned company, which is celebrating its 150th birthday, produces a wide variety of beers and sodas. Each year, the company produces about 200,000 cases of Gray's soda, the most predominant of which is root beer. It also contracts for about 150,000 cases of soda for other labels.

Gray Brewing recently became its own distributorship, which will allow the brewery to better focus on its core brands. In addition, it will allow the company to better meet the needs of its local retailers and customers with better service, promotions and product availability.

"Brewery self-distribution has been, and will continue to be, an integral part of brewery growth, so it's a natural step in our continued growth model," Gray said "It lets us take control of our brand and serve our core customers.

About 90 percent of Gray's business is in soda production.

"We sell more root beer than everything else combined," Gray said. "Over the years, we've done just about every soda pop under the sun, including bottling Coke in the 1970s."

Whether the company moves to a sixth generation remains to be seen. Gray's 10-year-old son works occasionally around the brewery, just enough hours "to wonder where his last paycheck was," Gray said.

"It's been an interesting experience," he said. "Being able to work with my dad has been great. Like anything, you have differences in family and business.

"I hope my kids will do what they want to do. They're around here; I was around here. There's no doubt it gets in your blood." (Source: GazetteExtra.com)


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