Austin L. Ray is more than just a pretty beard. By day, the 29-year-old Midwestern expat is a writer for the world's greatest email service provider. During his nights and weekends, he writes about beer, comedy, music, and other things he finds interesting for places like Rolling Stone, the A.V. Club, BeerAdvocate, the Village Voice, MTV, and Creative Loafing, for which he pens this very monthly beer missive, First Draft. On the column's one-year anniversary, it seemed somehow fittingly bizarre to let him write about himself, so that's what we did. Ray's other talents include snuggling, looking angry when he's not, tweeting in all caps when appropriate, and writing about himself in the third person.
Describe your first beer experience.
In late high school, in a backyard in a tiny (population: 200) town in central Illinois, I gathered with some friends to drink Miller Genuine Draft and act like dumb high-school kids. We succeeded on both levels. I chased each of my first several sips of MGD with pizza, doing my best to cancel out the unpleasant new taste. We formed the He-Man Beer Haters Club that night (I think we'd recently rewatched that Little Rascals movie), and I ended up slumped on the ground against a friend's car, watching the rain hit me in the face until he insisted I sleep in a recliner in his basement. The last thing I remember before happily passing out was another friend across the basement smoking a cigar and comparing it to a penis.
How did you start writing about beer?
Can I ask you a question?
[sigh] Go for it.
Is it weird to ask someone questions to which you already know the answers? More than just know the answers, really, since these particular answers are actually your answers?
I thought so. Sorry, what was your question again?
Writing about beer.
Right, sorry. I came to writing about beer the same way I came to writing about music. I've always loved writing and I've always loved music. In college, I realized I could put the two together. Over the years, my writing interests spread to more pop cultural stuff like books, movies, comedy, and so on. As my interest in craft beers grew, it just seemed natural to write about them like I do everything else. A couple years back, that started turning into actual assignments. Since then, I've written about beer for Atlanta magazine, Garden & Gun, and BeerAdvocate. I do a monthly column for the latter, as well as this paper, of course.
Of course. What's your favorite beer style, and why? An ideal pairing for that style?
I'm a sucker for a good IPA. Oskar Blues' Deviant Dale's, Caldera IPA, Dogfish Head's Hellhound on My Ale, Bell's Hopslam, Russian River's Pliny the Elder, and BrewDog's Hardcore IPA are a few of my desert-island hop bombs. Pair any of those with dogs and sitting outside on a nice day? That's it, I'm all set. Luckily, my wife and I live a short walk from Midway Pub in East Atlanta, where we often sit with our pit bull, Thurston. We drink beers on the patio while he hopes we'll drop tater tots ... on the patio.
When someone says "craft beer" to you, what comes—
Listen, buddy, you seem like a nice guy, but these questions are terrible. Mind if I talk a little bit about why I love Atlanta's beer culture?
Do I really have a choice here?
Come to think of it, nope.
You have the floor.
The enthusiasm for craft beer in this town is infectious. Stores, breweries, and beer festivals are popping up left and right, people are making clubs and hanging out together drinking beer, talking about it all over the Internet on social networks, apps, and listservs. It's great. Some of them are blogging, too, and while I wish more of them focused on insight and knowledge as opposed to pretty photos and "Hey, I'm drinking this," well, it's a start. Overall, it's a very positive feeling, and I think that's something that needs to be encouraged.
There are downsides, of course. Georgia's laws are antiquated and ridiculous, but I have to think that will change with time. And like anything else that isn't mainstream, there's a certain snobbiness that comes with craft beer sometimes. And, well, fuck that. You're not any better than anyone because of the beer you drink. And if you truly love that beer, you should be bending over backward to tell people about it, and introduce it to them on their terms. Then, after you introduce it to them, you can be BBFs (Best Beer Friends) forever. You should probably hug or high five or something at that point. Maybe a gentle kiss on the hand, if they seem into it. Or maybe you just exchange email addresses.
Are you finished?
I think so, yeah.
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