A Scottish undertaker making irreverent, often shambolic and regularly amusing videos about whisky? I’m sure there’s very funny joke in there somewhere, but darned if I know what it is.
If you haven’t come across Ralfy Mitchell then you really should. At a time when the debate over new and old media is raging full on, and questions are asked about integrity and independence, Ralfy is just getting on with it – blogging randomly in the true spirit of the medium and making do it yourself recordings about whiskies he has tasted. Or to put it in his words: “My malt mission over the last two years has been a website called ralfy.com for all things whisky, so long as it’s unorthodox, marketing-light, informative, independent, educational ...and entertaining.
“The biggest obstacle to my early malt adventures was the lack of independent, authentic, impartial guidance. All advice is useful as anyone getting in to whisky for the first time will fall victim to poor quality at some point. What’s worse mistakes can be expensive. Now in this age of instant on-line information customers can learn fast about whisky standards.”
Ralfy’s love of whisky developed some 14 years ago when he was unable to buy his regular supermarket dark rum and he opened a bottle of Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old which he’d been given as a present. From there the passion grew, and when he joined the fledgling Glasgow Whisky Club a few years back it seemed logical to him to blog comments and views for those who didn’t have a local club to attend. The videos followed, and they have taken on a life of their own. That’s because there is nothing quite like them anywhere else.
“Most of the videos I record are one-take, no-script, warts and all recordings,” he says.
“The result is a flawed concoction resulting from flying by the seat of my pants through 10 to 15 minutes on whatever the subject is. It seems to work.
“Most importantly, I never claim to be an expert. I’m not and never want to be...just a malty punk who enjoys the drams and is happy to share what I discover with everyone and without trying to put myself on some sort of wobbly pedestal.”
Ralfy’s blogs and ‘vlogs’, video posts, will come whenever and wherever the mood takes him, and he’ll review whatever he’s bought. That’s a key point: he doesn’t accept free samples from the whisky industry. And that in turn presents an irony.
“No I don’t accept samples from distillers, and I have to frequently and politely decline offers of bottles being sent to me for review,” he says. “It has helped me no end. I was overlooked early on by most distillers who preferred the slicker presentation style of other bloggers as opposed to my unreliable style. This in turn helped me to decline offers because I learned the value of being an independent and an outsider.
“Perhaps it’s also something to do with having been an undertaker in Glasgow for more than 20 years, a career which gives one a certain perspective on the priorities in life...and values, too.”
Because Ralfy only reviews what he buys it means his reviews remain populist because he hasn’t the budget for expensive whiskies. He funds the purchases from Google advertising and he wouldn’t have it any other way. All of which makes for a commendably down to earth but impressive approach to whisky. What you get now is what you’ll get in the future.
“I sometimes go on a blog trawl to see what’s happening in cyber space,” he says. “It is fascinating to see not just the changes but the amazing speed of change, specially with regard to world whiskies and other spirits. It is a very dynamic environment and I have front row seat to it all. Actually this whisky/internet gig is the best hobby I’ve ever had.”
It shows. Long may he run.
Name: Ralfy Mitchell
Currently drinking: whisky without E150a caramel colorant. Favourite whiskies: Anything of quality with real flavour, unfudged. Favourite distilleries: Ones that bottle unchill-filtered, NO E150a, 43%+, pay taxes to Britain and are not commercially abusive to smaller rivals.