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Photograph courtesy of Neal Handloser
For many twenty-something men, drinking two six packs of beer is just a rowdy Friday night. For Rusty Featherstone, it’s a job. In his long running “Rusty Ranks” series of minute-long TikToks posted for his 411,000 followers, Featherstone checks in with the camera as he downs the beers—cans of anything from Miller Lite to Beatbox Party Punch—and his eyes grow emptier, his words more slurred. But he always sees the task through, reliably ending each video by rating the brand on a scale of 1 of 10, no matter how far gone he’s found himself.
“It's a point of pride,” he tells GQ.
You can now find Featherstone in a number of places online. There’s TikTok and Instagram, where you’ll get the latest beer ratings, as well as his podcast, Will and Rusty’s Playdate, which he shares with fellow creator Will Donnellon. Featherstone is part of the Almost Friday media network, home to other prominent online creators like Donnellon, Will Angus, Chester Collins, Liam Cullagh, and Billy Langdon. Their work is spread out across video sketch comedy, podcasts, and other social media content. Most recently, the team came out with a brew of their own: Friday Beers. (Featherstone deemed it a 9.4.)
In three years, Featherstone has advanced from a hungover college student ranking beers to a hungover adult who gets invited to bars and stadiums because he is semi-famous for ranking beers. He now, of course, has a brand, Rusty Ranks, and hopes to broaden his digital footprint. He’s also currently working with the Almost Friday team on a Parts Unknown-style travel show where he checks out cool places around the world.
In this interview, Featherstone shares his beer-rating process, what fame has done for his nightlife, and how this whole thing started with a dare.
GQ: When did you first start creating online?
Rusty Featherstone: So it actually, strangely enough, started as a dare from one of my friends. We were talking about how easy [getting a following] seems to be on the internet, and some people were saying that it was probably harder than we thought. And I was like, “I could do that in like two seconds.” And it didn't go as quickly as I thought it was going to, but after a couple months, it turned into my job, which is pretty cool.
What kind of videos did you post at first?
My first video, I think we were just filming dumb stuff to make each other laugh. My goal was like, if I can get my buddies to laugh, I know there are people out there like my friends. And then I landed on reviewing beers somehow.
I’d love to hear how that started.
I think at the time it was just like, We're already drinking. Might as well film it. And then I think after a while it was more like, this is pretty taxing on, like, my body and my general wellbeing. So we started thinking of other things that we could review that didn't require drinking 12 beers.
What are some of the qualities you look for in a beer when ranking them?
I think there are a bunch of different factors. What I and a couple of the other guys think is funniest about it is some of these brands don't get a fair review because it's just so based on my personal experience with them. Like, I remember I had a cut in my mouth for one of them and they got points deducted for that. It's a pretty loose grading system. We try to be as silly as we can when we're doing it, but people take it more seriously than I do.
When you decide to rate a beer, is it because you were already planning on partying and think, “I might as well turn this into a video”? Or do you have to have nights where you're like, “People need to come over 'cause I don't wanna do it alone”?
I think that there have been plenty that fall under both of those categories. Usually it's a Friday night where we would be going out after anyways, or we're watching football or something. But especially if there's a deadline where I have to get something out, there have been nights where I'm like, “Boys, you need to come over and we're gonna figure this out and I'll pay for the beers.”
Have you ever not been able to get through all 12?
I think the only time that we came close [to quitting] was a while back when there was a Four Loko [night]. That was just like—it wasn't possible. No one had any idea how many had been consumed just because [we were] too far gone.
I feel like if I were to do this, I would start with the intention of filming and then it would just fall off halfway through. How do you keep yourself accountable?
It's a point of pride. Usually I'll have buddies around to kind of keep it on track. There was one where I remember telling them, “Don't let [the party] leave the house 'cause once we leave, then I'm gonna get distracted.” And halfway through the video we were on someone's boat. They were not doing a good job babysitting.
You moved on to ranking other things, because routinely drinking 12 beers at a time is probably not physically and spiritually sustainable. How do you make sure that you're spacing the beer rankings out, and not destroying yourself?
I have a great team of people now that I didn't have access to in the beginning. We get presented really cool opportunities to go to events and big games, and those are a lot easier, just because I can plan them out ahead of time and I'll have a general idea of what I need to get done. I reserve the beer reviews now for something really important. We came out with our own beer, and I came out of retirement to do one of those and that was fun. It's very rare that I'll find a beer that one, I haven't done already, but two, would warrant filming.
I was going to ask about the Almost Friday beer. Were you involved in making it, or just drinking it?
Yeah, I was involved in the process. We got to work with a brewery in upstate New York and I got to go into the, like, science room. They had beakers and stuff and they were letting me taste all the different booze, and I helped a little bit on the creative end. I didn't realize how long of a process it was. From coming up with the idea to actually getting it in market, I think it was a three year process.
Did you study anything related to all this in school?
I think [Friday Beers] is the closest I've come to using my business degree. I took some marketing classes and I can't say that I really got to flex my business muscles that much, but it was fun to be involved.
You mentioned being invited to sports games and stuff. Have you started getting recognized?
Yeah, it's really strange. Colleges are a lot, certain cities—Boston is really heavy. Like, I was walking down the street with my mom and I'm never out with her. And you can see what type of guy is gonna do it, you know, 50 yards away. You're like, “There's a pretty good chance that that guy's gonna say something.” And I got a couple high fives on the way to dinner and my mom was very, very confused.
Sean Evans, who does Hot Ones, talks about how people are always getting him chicken when he is out, and he is so tired of chicken. Does this happen to you with beer?
Every night. My friend Sam has this joke that it costs me a lot more to go out, 'cause [fans will] offer to buy and then I feel bad, so I'll end up buying it. But yeah, after a couple hours at a bar when people are trying to force shots on you, it's more work than it used to be to say no.
You said that you can always spot the guy who's gonna come up to you. How would you describe your audience?
Like, stretched out and squished versions of myself. They're me, but in different shapes. Those are guys that you can pretty quickly assume are gonna say something. And surprisingly dads—way more dads than I thought. I'll go home and all my dad's buddies, like when we're golfing, are surprisingly well-read on what I've been up to.
The GQ editor who first sent me your stuff is a dad. I wonder if they're living vicariously through you. I feel like a dad deserves 12 beers almost more than anyone.
Yeah, I agree. I get the same vibe where I think they see a little bit of what they were up to in college in their early twenties and wanna relate.
What’s your favorite beer to drink off the clock?
I have a real answer and I have the right answer. The right answer is: I really like mine. And my biggest worry when we were working on this was that I was gonna have to promote a shitty product for the rest of my life. And so I'm really glad that it actually tastes good and it's free to me. So that definitely helps. If I had to say one that's not ours, I really like Red Stripe. It's a Jamaican beer, it comes in a stubby bottle. That one's really good. I remember we were on vacation in Jamaica and I got introduced to these and it blew my mind.
If there was a Rusty Ranks expansion, what are some other things you'd love to get into ranking?
This is kind of an offshoot, but we're developing a show called How Cool. And I'm gonna go see how cool different places in the world are. It's gonna be kind of a travel show. I always liked Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain and I wanted to do something along those lines. I know that's a big set of shoes to fill, but that's the general idea. So to start out, I'm gonna go to this Dutch town and do some exploring, and then we're going to Pioneer Town—it's like an old western town.
Will this all be on social media? Or do you have any aspirations of moving to TV?
We're always talking to networks and stuff like that. I don't think we've told anyone about this specific show. I like YouTube a lot just because you can kind of do whatever you want. So it would live on YouTube initially. And then I think I'm more of a day-by-day guy. I don't really know what would happen in five years, but that definitely would be a cool thing to shoot for, to have a show.
Originally Appeared on GQ