Austin Ray and M.L.Rose Take Their Beer Very Seriously

In this week’s print edition of the Scenewe profile M.L.Rose owner Austin Ray and his role in the growth of Nashville’s craft beer scene since he first opened his neighborhood burger and beer joint a decade ago. Ray was already a big fan of local, regional and national craft beers before opening his restaurant, then called Melrose Pub. But he realized back then that Nashville’s palate wasn’t completely tuned to the hoppy and malty flavors of some of his favorites, after decades of drinking light lagers by the pitcher. So Bud Light was still on draft when Ray chose his first beer list for the bar’s tap system.

Through the years, Nashville has definitely matured when it comes to beer preferences, and Ray has expanded to 30 or more taps at each of M.L.Rose’s three locations (the original in Melrose and the newer additions on Charlotte in Sylvan Park and a brand-new spot in the Capitol View neighborhood near downtown). Those tap handles are stocked with beer selections representing different craft beer styles and breweries from across the country. To determine which are featured at all three restaurants, Ray convenes a beer panel every quarter to gather his staff together to sample as many as a hundred brews from which to choose.

“It means something to be on our draft menu,” explains Ray. “We don’t necessarily consider ourselves tastemakers in the community beyond what we put on our own taps, but these are some big decisions. Plastic menus aren’t cheap to print, so we’re committed to these beers for awhile.”

That also means that M.L. Rose demands a level of commitment from its distributors to maintain supply. Ray bemoans, “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve picked a beer and then found out we couldn’t get enough. But we’ve developed relationships with our distributors and breweries that allow us to get things others can’t. Still, there’s a lot more competition for the best beers. When we opened on Charlotte, we were the only game in town, but now there are eight other good bars in the neighborhood!”

Ray also finds himself addressing other new trends when it comes to craft beer availability. “When we opened,” he recalls, “you couldn’t walk into many upscale restaurants and buy a good beer. Much less an Exxon station for goodness sake! With great beer available all over, the big question is why to go to a pub to drink anymore?”

Ray doesn’t necessarily adore everything on his own beer list. “I love it when my staff brings me something to try that is a challenge. We try to strike a balance between trends and what’s popular, with what we personally think is the best. If the staff gets behind something, they’ll sell it. We have a responsibility to educate a bigger audience. It can be risky to get behind something edgy or new, but it’s part of our mission.”

Read the full article here.
View All Press