Oct. 20—After three rounds of competition and a social media campaign by the city of Janesville rivaling that of many politicians, Gray Brewing Company's sodas floated to the top of the competition for the "Coolest Thing Made in Janesville."
In its third year, the "Coolest Thing" contest held by the Janesville Economic Development department crowned on Tuesday the long-time local brewer from a field of 64 entrants. The competition wrapped up Monday at midnight, as voters chose among the five remaining contestants.
Starting out as Gray's Bottling Works in 1856, the company brewed both beer and soft drinks. Due to an abundance of competition among the 16 breweries in town, Gray's discontinued its production of beer and focused solely on its soft drinks. This singular production continued over the next 100 years, until its building burned down in 1992.
Upon rebuilding the company, fifth-generation owner Fred Gray took over the business and chose to start brewing beer again. Around the same time the company changed its name to Gray Brewing Company. The company's sodas remained a favorite in the community.
Sarah Gray, who co-owns and operates the brewery with her father, Fred, and brother, Jake, continues to produce high-quality drinks for customers throughout the Midwest. Gray ships their soda products to Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and throughout Wisconsin.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Gray Brewing hard when restaurants, bars and other establishments that carried its sodas were forced to close.
In addition to a halt in sales at restaurants and bars, Gray pointed to another contributing factor to the pandemic-related drop: a change in buying habits. With hoarding becoming more prevalent among shoppers, bulk purchases overshadowed craft beer and soda sales since handcrafted products are generally sold in lower quantities.
"They were buying a 30-pack rather than buying a six-pack of beer or a four-pack of soda," Sarah Gray said.
Gray Brewing makes several flavors of soft drinks, including root beer, cream soda and orange cream soda. And coming soon, due to high demand, the brewery is bringing back an old-time favorite: Gray Sour.
"It's by far the most asked about product," Gray said, noting people call frequently asking if the company still makes the sour lemon-flavor drink.
"I was born in '93, so I'm excited just to be able to try it because everyone raves about how good it was."
Sarah Gray said winning the "Coolest Thing Made in Janesville" award is a sort of validation for her family, which has endeavored to make their sodas available in town. From offering sodas at the farmers market to setting up drink tents at local community events, Sarah said earning the "coolest thing" distinction was the "cherry on top" of a company marketing campaign.
"We made it through the pandemic, we're here to stay, and we're just so excited and thrilled to have won this award here in our community," she said.