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Whisky Behind The Scenes #3 – Roy Duff from Aqvavitae

Whisky Behind the scenes #3 –  Roy Duff: YouTube Creator, Dramface Creator, and Whisky Evangelist. 

Hello Roy! Thanks for taking the time to take part in our current blog series: Whisky Behind The Scenes, providing our readers with some inside information into the Whisky Industry. What inspired you to start documenting your own whisky experience? 

That’s an easy start. It was whisky. As the Italian colleague who introduced me to it once intensely inquired “You live in the country that makes the finest spirit in the world and you choose to know nothing about it?” It took an introduction as brutal as that to help me see what it was and what it could be. It changed my relationship with alcohol and my perceptions of many more things beyond whisky. It taught me to slow down, to savour, to taste. So yes, the whisky inspired me. I wanted to reach others that didn’t have a disgusted Italian friend to nudge them. Whisky is too good a thing not to share.

Is there an online personality in the whisky industry who inspired you to get started? 

Yes. A few actually. Serge and the team over at Whiskyfun and The Malt Maniacs helped in the early days, but it was when things hit video that I really started to enjoy whisky online. It was of course originally Ralfy, which then led to some good fun content from the likes of The Scotch Test Dummies and many more. A friend suggested I should take my whisky evangelism to YouTube and I was reluctant. The suggestion had planted a seed though. At that time there were gaps where I felt I could contribute; blind tasting, industry concepts, history, pronunciation and terminologies. Soon after I got started, we all began collaborating and supporting each other to build our presence but also the combined value for the audience; to build a sense of connected ‘community’ in a digital space. It became WhiskyTube and it was much, much bigger than any one channel. Super successful channels such as The Whiskey Tribe and The Whiskey Vault have shown how far it can go and that there’s a willing audience out there. The knowledge and love grows. New channels appear regularly, many of them original and well done. 

At the distillery we often listen to the vPub. The concept is brilliant, what inspired you to get started? 

Once more it was The Scotch Test Dummies. Even with whisky video content, there remained a sense that we were consuming a presentation, a little like TV. It was unidirectional. But whisky, for me, was also about interaction and connecting people and I realised real life whisky sharing was not always available to everyone. Then the Dummies tried a few livestreams. Boom! There it was; interaction and comments, feedback and interjection from real live people with just as much to share as any host. All the lights came on. At that point it became a bidirectional exchange. I ended up tuning into the US sessions far too late into the evenings. I needed one in our time zone. In the end I decided to just do it myself. That’s how it started. I hit the Go Live button at 9:45pm on a Thursday in 2017, it’s been that time ever since. The concept of a virtual pub, the vPub, was built from those original streams.

I started with twice monthly, during Covid I increased it to twice weekly. These days it’s settled to a weekly thing, every Thursday

The Recycled Reviews concept is also brilliant, could you tell us how you came up with this idea and if there is a particular whisky that frequents your recycling bin regularly?

Parting with killed-off bottles always felt a little sad. A lack of space at home meant I couldn’t ever really indulge keeping any empty bottles around, even the special ones, but I wanted a way to record what was gone. Staring at a basket of 15 empty bottles, I decided to record throwing them away, with a summary, a score and a decision to replace or not. I edited it into a video and put it out there, nervously thinking I’d be laughed at. Yet, “When’s the next Recycled Review?”remains the thing I’m asked most often. I need to get on it. 

I think the bottle I’ve ‘recycled’ more than any other would either be Tomatin’s Legacy or Ledaig 10yo. Clynelish 14yo and Deanston 12yo would also be contenders. 

Where do you get your inspiration for your vPub topics? 

I steal them. Every single one of them. But seriously, there’s no such thing as an original idea. Even original ideas are often based loosely on things that have come before. I am genuinely obsessed by whisky and all its accoutrements, so I find thinking up topics quite easy. Original topics are a little harder. Committing to topics though, is harder still. I need to convince myself that the viewers will find it interesting too. I tend to find that following my own thoughts and where I am at any particular moment covers enough content ideas. I keep a list but it’s often ignored due to more pressing things that get the juices flowing. I’m also now trying to refocus a little and remember what it’s like to be earlier in the whisky discovery journey and make sure the vPub remains as inclusive as possible. In truth I get the ideas from bottles, brands, books, other creators, tastings, events and everywhere else that whisky manifests. The vPub will always switch from a solo session, to a guest format, to a community topic or a blind challenge and perhaps the occasional ‘on location’ livestream, I like the variety. But those of us that really understand what whisky can do will know the inspiration always comes from the whisky, often straight from the glass.
I love the interaction you have with the vPub listeners, and the live stream chat is brilliant. Have you met any friends from the vPub or are you aware of any members of your community who have transitioned their friendship from the online space into the “real world”? 

Absolutely! In fact I get reminded regularly of neglecting my other friends and spending all my time with my whisky friends, which is fair. 

Whisky has broken down so many barriers that I have genuinely found real, meaningful and cherished friendships that would have otherwise have been distant from me. Whisky as a pursuit requires an open and curious mind to pursue it in the way that we do, so we tend to discover that whisky folk and those that gather at its side are good, kind and generous folk. We don’t care how we each pray, eat, think or vote, all that matters is that we love whisky. Through that, we see the person before their context or views. That makes for a good friendship foundation. 

Friendships are regularly formed, for me and many others. The channel’s live chat and comments as well as the social spaces it has founded in Facebook and elsewhere provide the perfect places for connections to be made, this often builds into friendships. There are hundreds. There are even some whisky clubs, such as Nottingham’s Whisky Association (NWA) and the London Whisky Club and many more which have been founded by the participants in the vPubs. The best part? Since the platform doesn’t see any geographical borders, these connections, friendships and gatherings are international. They’re happening everywhere. Distance and remoteness be damned. It’s amazing.
With community at the forefront of your work. What do you think is the best part of being part of the whisky community? 

The people. It’s always people. The opportunities and the positivity too, but that also comes from the same thing; those people. Community gatherings and spaces, online or in person, for whatever reason; to celebrate, educate, motivate and even critique. Mostly it’s just to share, it’s always about sharing and mostly more than just sharing the liquid. Even when we discuss negative things, such as a poorly judged whisky or cynical prices, for example, that’s actually a positive thing. We are bringing critical (and hopefully occasionally constructive) feedback to a negative thing in order to move towards a more positive outcome. But mostly it is always about the people. The people I’ve been privileged to meet through whisky fortify my belief that the human condition has hope. There is genuine love and care out there. Even in our space on ‘the internet’, we work hard to keep that positivity. To remind ourselves of what it can give. To be polite. To be welcoming and inclusive. We all benefit. 

Through those people and the connections and collaboration they can provide, opportunities appear. I’ve been able to build a career through the Aqvavitae channel. From that I’ve moved towards building an entire whisky-customer focused review, news and feature platform called that relies on a team of twenty or so individuals; writers, editors, everything. It’s growing fast and I’m convinced it’ll become more relevant as it builds its back-catalogue and whisky becomes more varied and complex with each new release. I also partnered with Ralfy to create the Online Scotch Whisky Awards. All of these projects are independent and self-funded, or community funded. That’s all possible because of the people who make up our community, it’s incredible.

My favourite episode on your YouTube channel is “How to pronounce scotch whisky.” I have referenced this a few times to help with my pronunciation of certain brands. Do you have a favourite episode?

I don’t think I have a favourite. Maybe the two episodes about The Dummies visiting Scotland, they were kind of travelogue style and, while hardly professional, were good fun. The pronunciation video you mention though is the most popular, although I wish I could go back and ditch the overly loud backing track. Maybe it needs to be remade. But over 250k people have watched it and I’m grateful to every one of them. Thanks to you too! 

Can you offer any advice for someone who is interested in starting their own whisky related YouTube Channel or social media account? 

Be patient. And think about what you want to achieve. 

Many just share their journey and their thoughts, some review and score, while others take on a more entertaining or educational angle. Many stick around, many more wither. It isn’t easy, especially at the start. For those that stay they often find a rhythm or a vibe that works for them and they’re happy with it. It’s whisky and folk love it, so everyone will eventually find their audience. But, also because it’s whisky, and therefore niche, some people get frustrated at the slow growth or the limited scale. It perhaps isn’t enough for them to see it as worthwhile. WhiskyTube, specifically, is quite mature these days and the whisky audience growth has slowed. The fact there’s whisky on YouTube isn’t a surprise to anyone anymore. That said, new channels appear all the time and some grow quickly, leveraging the already strong viewership.  When we have choice the quality increases, which grows the audience more, so we all benefit. I enjoy supporting channels who bring unique and consistent, good quality content, those who bring amazing production as well as those who grind it out. We don’t compete, we celebrate each other. It’s very cool. It takes a certain personality to want to do it, but if anyone fancies it for the sake of whisky, they should definitely try it. If it’s for the sake of YouTube, probably a more lucrative subject matter would be easier! 

When all is said and done, whether it’s YouTube or a social account or a blog, if you can look at what you’ve made and know it’s a positive contribution to whisky and the community who love it, it’s surely worthwhile.

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