On the first beer-tasting road trip I ever took a few years ago, I traveled up through southern Wisconsin. On my way, I ran into brews from the Janesville, Wisconsin-based Gray’s Brewing Company on a number of occasions. They always struck me as odd, from the inconsistencies of their packaging, to the off-kilter website. It has since been redesigned, as has that packaging, and I was surprised a few months ago to suddenly find Gray’s beer available in my own neck of the woods in Central Illinois.

Despite my memory of the one oatmeal stout I’d ever had from them being nothing special, there was one other thing to consider: These were beers. Beers that I had never sampled before. And so, I assembled a mixed six-pack with the three available Gray’s Beers. As it turns out, I rolled the dice well on one of the three. I’ve summarized my thoughts on each below, rather than write out full tasting notes.

Busted Knuckle Irish-Style Ale:

Not truly “red” as the “Irish style” (presumably “red ale”) would imply, but dark orange. Very low carbonation, even for the style, with a head that immediately dissipates. The aroma is malty sweet, with mild caramel and some fruitiness. It is moderately sweet to taste, with maltiness that approximates something like a Vienna lager. There are no hops and very minimal bitterness. Overall it’s just rather bland, with very little to it. It’s inoffensive but not something that I would find myself reaching for again, the kind of beer you drink half of and then pour out from just being bored with it. I give it 2 hops.

Not as good as its label.

Gray’s Bully Porter: This one shares its name with a better-reviewed porter from Boulevard Brewing, but to me it was quite easily the best of the three beers from Gray’s. When poured, it looks black and first, but when held up to the light you can see its ruby highlights. It leaves half a finger of tan head. The aroma yields a good amount of roast on the nose and something like sweetened coffee. It actually smells quite appetizing. The taste is pretty dry, with cocoa powder-like flavor and moderate coffee tones. It’s the kind of porter that I enjoy a lot, really. There’s a character that almost reminds me of chocolate Teddy Grahams. The flavor isn’t particularly strong, just dry and quaffable. No real hop presence besides a bit of bitterness in the finish. Definitely on the drier side for a porter, and something I would happily drink again. 3 hops.

Significantly BETTER than its label.

Gray’s Oatmeal Stout: Similar black appearance with ruby highlights. Very light carbonation–kind of flat, really. There’s just a little fizz that dies right away. The aroma is of weak milk chocolate with a little bit of lactic character. There’s not much there. The taste is similar–definitely a little flat, kind of chalky and somewhat stale. Not as lively as the porter. Very smooth and velvety, which is enhanced by the lack of carbonation. There’s just not enough flavor here to make it anything interesting. 2 hops.

Big: no. Bold: no. Black: kinda?

There you go! I don’t know if you’ll ever run into any Gray’s Brewing Company beers in your travels, but if you do, I can’t help but say that the porter would probably be the way to go.


  1. Thanks for the review… I am a southern Wisconsin alehead… so I will give the porter a slurp.. O’so brewery has some tasty beverages up here if you want a nice treat.

    1. I picked up a couple O’so products while I was on that trip. I remember a stout and a red ale, I think? This was about two years ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s