Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
We all have passions.
Ryan Doka‘s happens to be pickling.
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Or, well, it happens to be putting stuff in jars in general. His channel description phrases it better than we can: “I put things in jars but not jars in me!”
Those ten words tell you exactly what you’ll find on Doka’s channel: things in jars, and also a lot of irreverent, take-it-easy, good-time humor. Doka’s whole philosophy with making content is along the lines of who knows what’ll happen? Not you. Not me. Let’s find out. His “homey” (but unlivable) basement-slash-DIY-studio is stocked with dozens of jars full of candies and liquors, all in various stages of what’ll happen?
While Doka did originally start out as a pickler, a brush with botulism steered him toward stewing things in alcohol rather than traditional pickling ingredients like vinegar and salt. These days a lot of what he does involves putting jawbreakers, Red Hots, Tic Tacs, Werther’s caramels, and other sweets in alcohol and seeing what the end result is after a few days, a week, a month, or even several months.
Using alcohol has been a big audience draw, Doka says, partially because putting, say, Sour Patch Kids or Nerds in a jar of rum or tequila is something people can recreate at home without any special knowledge.
But it’s also held back his growth–at least on TikTok.
Doka started his YouTube channel way back in 2010. After dabbling in singing videos and things like the 150 Warheads challenge, he ended up taking a break, getting a few jobs, and finding a career in marketing. It wasn’t until TikTok gained popularity that he returned to videos. That’s where alcohol got him in trouble. TikTok has pretty strict moderation guidelines, and as soon as Doka began “pickling” things in alcohol, he found his videos dropping from millions to a few thousand views. He says TikTok seems chill with his content now, but back when it looked like his account would get banned, he began cross-posting all his clips to YouTube Shorts.
Over the past year, Doka has posted more than 170 videos to his channel. In 2022 alone, he’s grown his YouTube audience from 150,000 subscribers to more than 1.2 million, and his monthly view count from 100,000 or so views per month to more than 60 million a month.
That’s not all he’s growing. He recently teamed up with a distiller in his home province of Saskatchewan to produce his own vodka brand: Vdoka.
We’ll let him tell you all about it below.
Tubefilter: So for the Ryan Doka newbies out there, who are you, where are you from, and how did you end up on YouTube?
Ryan Doka: I’m Ryan Doka, born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada represent. I actually started my YouTube journey back in 2007, uploading videos.
Tubefilter: So right at the beginning of YouTube.
RD: Yeah, I’m a veteran of the space. I used to do singing videos and I used to take it seriously. And then I kind of found that I never got a lot of views, which was okay by like, child me’s set of standards. My friends thought they were funny!
And then I moved on to high school and I went on this choir trip and we were doing a karaoke thing and I sang another song, but a woman’s song. I think it was Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song.” And I sang it in a high falsetto voice and everybody on the boat was laughing. And so I brought that to what I guess was my very first YouTube channel, which is just Ryan Doka. I started doing comedy singing videos where I sing only female songs with my high, pubescent cracking voiced. That was kind of my start. I got a couple good videos. One of them got to like a million views—“Party in the USA,” by Miley Cyrus.
Tubefilter: A classic.
RD: Yeah. And then I got sick of it, as one does—can’t typecast myself—and I got into challenges in 2012. I did the 50 Warhead challenge. I did not personally start that trend, but I was definitely one of the iconic ones. I started doing challenges for like three years, then stopped doing videos altogether, because I was like, “I have no life experience.”
I went into business, went into marketing, did that for like six years. And then TikTok came around, so I went on there, learned short-form videos. And then I found out that pickling is very fun and I wanted to make pickling videos, so I did that. And then I was like, “Wow, I should do this. And not possibly die from botulism.”
Tubefilter: Please tell me that didn’t actually happen.
RD: Yeah. Uh. The video’s up on the YouTube as well. What I did is I tried pickling a hot dog with just vinegar and salt. Yeah. And I let it sit for about a month.
Tubefilter: And that gave you botulism?
RD: It gave me a very big scare with botulism, because if I had botulism, I would definitely have died. The spores and everything, it just made me numb. I couldn’t think. And like my face was just like, I couldn’t move it at all. And I’m like, “I gotta call Poison Control.”
They were like, “Yeah, just chill out. If it gets worse, go to the hospital.”
It didn’t, which is good. But I knew I had to move over to something else, and I thought, “I’ll leave things in vodka.” So I did that. And then I guess people loved it and I was like, “I’ve gotta do this on YouTube.” I started posting on YouTube for a bit. And now this is life.
Tubefilter: So were you just making videos on TikTok as a hobby? Or was this because you couldn’t work? Were you working during the beginning of the pandemic, or?
RD: Oh yeah, after I quit doing YouTube the first—well, I guess the first and only time, I got into business and stuff and I always had a good job. They weren’t always super good paying. They were just kinda crappy. I actually wanted to get assistant management or management stuff, which I’ve never been used to. So I went to work at retail. That’s the easiest thing to do to get manage management creds. DId that for a year. And then I had manager experience, so I could be a manager with anything.
I was at a marketing company doing like website design and graphic design and TikTok came out and I was just like, “My god, I gotta do this. This is my life now! Yes! I’m gonna make crappy little videos!”
It didn’t really hit off until like three months into it. Which, I mean, I never did it to get famous or like anything. I thought that was way behind me. Then I saw like, damn, some of these [TikTok] videos are getting like 10,000 views. Then YouTube Shorts came out and I was like, “Well, what are the chances?”
And it took about two months before any video really started taking off. They got like a thousand views, which is, in my mind, amazing. I was stuck at that 150,000 subscriber count for the longest time, and I was just like, “I NEED TO GET TO A MILLION.”
So I picked up the pace and uploaded videos daily and yeah. Consistency is big. And I love it, just personally, I love doing it, so every day is such a blessing and then boom, I’m here having a conversation with you.
Tubefilter: That’s how it goes! So is this your full-time gig now?
RD: No. I still have a full-time job.
Tubefilter: Oh really?
RD: Yeah. I love my job right now. I work in a restaurant, doing marketing still. It’s just amazing. I make videos for them. I get paid to make videos and it challenges me because it actually fits in well with what I’m doing. It’s a bar, kind of a community pub. So they’re all across Canada and I get to travel around getting videos of people making cocktails, making food, and it fits in very well with what I’m doing on my personal channel. It keeps me like, with my ADHD mindset where I get tired of things and I’m just like, “Eh, yeah. More things in jars.” It makes me flex my creative bone.
Tubefilter: What drew you to pickling? Is this something that your family does? Did you see it online?
RD: I really like pickled eggs. I don’t know what it is with me. Nobody in my family really pickled. I know my grandfather, he would make these amazing pickled…they were like cherry tomatoes? But they were called “cherry bombs.” They were spicy. I loved them.
So he was a little bit of an inspiration there, but then I had all these different, locally made pickled eggs and pickled peppers. And I was like, “I gotta figure it out. I gotta do it.” And then I learned how to do it.
I never really thought anybody would want to watch that kind of content unless I made it interesting. So I was like, hmm. My brain tells me that I have to let people know what’s happening in the first seven seconds, but then I just made the script and I was like, “Oh yeah. Pickling can definitely be interested to people if you show them the entire video, start to finish, and don’t let them wait.” It’s interesting to me cause I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I pickle things. So I’m surprised as the audience is surprised.
Tubefilter: What is your setup like? Because I’m assuming that you’re running multiple projects at once. Do you have a space in your house? Basement? Garage?
RD: My crappy little rental that I have here, yeah. It’s so dingy and cruddy and it was hard finding a flat surface to put my new bar table on, but I basically just fell in the basement. It’s a non-livable basement, so you can’t do anything. There’s like probably a thousand spiders down there. But because it’s so off the cuff and it’s not a studio and it’s not super bright or pretty, it really makes it feel more homey to me. And I am notoriously lazy, so I don’t want to go out of my way to rent a space, go there for a day, do my thing. I want it to be like: I can make a video. So it’s just in my basement.
I have a bookshelf—now I have two bookshelves. That was fun. “Hey, I should show off the jars and the alcohols I’m using.” Yeah. I’m so bare bones. Like I could definitely film with like a super cool like Sony A6600. Like I have that. That’d be so good to use. But I can film on my phone, which I have been doing. I just have really good lighting that I think I picked up on Amazon. Lighting is key. But that’s all I do. I film on my phone. I just put it on a tripod. Go for broke.
Tubefilter: It does feel very homey. It reminds me a lot of the giant oak bartop in my grandparents’ basement.
RD: Yeah! And I think me going into this idea of pickling and like, when I moved into alcohol, I knew I wanted to make this doable, because I knew that it was interesting enough to me that, when some of these videos are getting millions of views, other people will want to do it.
So I implore everybody who like what I’m doing to do it if they find it interesting. I don’t want it to seem unachievable because everybody has these expensive cameras and all this equipment. And you don’t need that! If you want to, literally just mix a cocktail and film yourself doing it. A lot of people are surprised when I’m like, “I just film on an iPhone 13.” Front-facing camera! Not even the back-facing camera.
Tubefilter: I’m curious, have you run into any problems on TikTok with making content involving alcohol?
RD: I did at the beginning. When I was starting on TikTok and got into doing alcohol, they almost banned my channel. I don’t make these videos for minors at all, but I do understand that younger folks will see it. So I don’t ever want to be a guy that’s like, “Hmm! Pushing alcohol on minors!” That’s not my prerogative. I didn’t drink until I was of legal age in Canada, which is 19.
But going into that, I want to be a positive influence, but I understand with being a children’s app, there’s things. So I never want to utilize, like…One of my local distilleries here, Last Mountain, they gave me vodka and the idea was like, “I’m not gonna promote you for sale. I’m going use [your product]. And you may get a little bit of brand exposure, but that’s it.” And they’re like, “Yeah, sounds good.”
So everybody I do, I never push, like, “Buy this item now! Go to your local minimart! Buy yourself 17 ounces!” But TikTok, I guess when they saw that I was mixing it with certain candies, they saw that it was maybe like a negative thing. So they just kind of—
Tubefilter: Ohhh, the candies.
RD: —yeah, blacklisted my videos. I used to get a couple million a video, then went down to 20,000, and I was like, “Oh, it happens.” Then I got videos removed that got reinstated, and some that stayed on my channel as like a “This is a warning, Ryan, don’t do this.” So I just wanted to move off the platform, and that’s when I started going up on YouTube.
Then I guess they stopped caring. Now I upload videos all the time, on TikTok and YouTube. And it’s just like, “Yeah, we’re good.”
Tubefilter: Are you focusing on both equally? Or are you more focused on YouTube now? And how do you handle content? Are you making videos separately for TikTok and YouTube or do you make the same video for both?
RD: Both, yeah. My TikToks are the same ones that go on my YouTube Shorts. I’ve never cross-promoted my YouTube on my TikTok though, which is very interesting.
RD: Yeah, I think I have maybe a couple thousand people that follow me on TIkTok and on YouTube. I don’t really want to send people to YouTube just because I’d rather that be a natural thing. I don’t want to get people that are from another platform. I don’t know. It’s weird. I’m just a weird guy. But with YouTube now…I was so big back in the day on doing long-form content that I’m now trying to mix in long-form content and I know my branding is centered around alcohol, and my wacky zany ideas. I have so many different video ideas planned that are long-form for weekly or even two times weekly uploads, starting in I believe August. So consistency is big, but those will be strictly only on YouTube, which I’m super proud about, they’re gonna be so fun.
Tubefilter: Are they along the same lines of what you’re already doing?
RD: Some of them are. Then other ones are going to be like a tester. They involve a little bit of alcohol, but they’re not centered solely around it, it’s like a nice gradual push into something fun. But the plan is to stick with alcohol because that is kind of what I know at the moment.
Tubefilter: Clearly short-form content has benefited you. How do you feel about moving into a place where you’re doing long- and short-form?
RD: So long-form is great for the die-hard fans that are just like, “Yes, this is what I’m looking for, let’s slay this, I’m on the platform 24/7.” Short-form is great for people who absolutely love watching my content just because it’s super quick and boom, one and done, move on to the next. You can binge watch it.
I find that long-form is more for those straight-up fans that are like, “Man, I wanna see more of this guy for his personality. I’m willing to watch a 20-minute-long video of this guy doing whatever he does.” The balance between it, though, is just like, of course it’s a lot more difficult to make long-form, and to make it interesting. You can’t keep, I don’t think, the same viewership on Shorts as you can on long-form, unless you are already an established long-form creator. But making Shorts and then going into long-form, if you can do it correctly, I think benefits you in the best possible way. Not only monetarily, but also just for you as a brand, because then it shows that you’re diverse, that you’re not sticking to one thing. That you could branch out and you’re adaptive.
Tubefilter: Where do you come up with the combinations of foods/liquors you do?
RD: So it’s very interesting because you’d expect the answer to be like, “I have a piece of paper with everything that I would ever want to do and mix.” But the actual answer is like, I will go shopping for groceries and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, what is this? I’m gonna put this in rum. This might be good.”
At the beginning, though, it was a lot more dry. I would buy a bunch of random items and I was like, “Hmm, this seems kind of funny.” Yeah. And that wouldn’t necessarily be good. So like…ramen and whiskey.
Tubefilter: That sounds…less than appetizing.
RD: Yeah, I would hope, but I’d not really know the flavor profiles and then I’d be surprised after a month when it’s like, god, the ramen whiskey’s actually not bad.
But then once I did vodka steak, so I left raw steak in a vodka. It was supposed to be for a month, but I left it for two months in the freezer. I did that video and that was my last time I ever just kind of didn’t think about what I was doing because I got E. coli.
Tubefilter: Dude, you have so many brushes with death here.
RD: I should be dead by this point in my life, but I am lucky to be alive. But yeah I got really bad E. coli. As my doctor said, “Ryan, in my 20 years of being a doctor, I’ve never seen this much E. coli bacteria built up in any test.”
I can tell you right now, E. coli’s just not fun to deal with.
Tubefilter: I’ll take it from the expert.
RD: You can quote me on this. Ryan Doka, 2022: “E. coli. Not a fun time.”
So yeah, I steered away from using raw foods, and went into more of like…not pre-planned, but like, I know these aren’t gonna kill me.
Tubefilter: Candy seems pretty safe.
RD: Candy is safe. Certain cooked meats are fine. Like the McNuggets video I did right after that was totally fine. I still will brush with certain things, like I do. Here’s a little spoiler, a little inside scoop: next month I have a chicken sandwich—
Tubefilter: Oh no.
RD: —I’m leaving in there. Yeah. Now a lot of people are gonna be like, “Ryan, that’s gonna give you salmonella.” We don’t know that!
Tubefilter: But it’s cooked.
RD: It’s cooked.
Tubefilter: To be fair, I would’ve assumed a steak in the freezer and vodka would be fine.
RD: You would think that! But bacteria kind of grew on the piece of the steak that was sticking out of the vodka. I’m real with every single video I do. I’m transparent. All my ratings are legit, and the timeframes as well. So when it was in there for two months, I didn’t wanna do it. It was green. I was like, “It’s really bad.”
I knew that I didn’t want to actually take a shot of the vodka. I was just going to do a cut and spit it out, which I never do. And what happened was I slammed it back so fast and it broke the barrier I made and I swallowed the whole thing and…yeah. Not good.
Tubefilter: I’m concerned for you.
RD: I know, I know. I’m getting smarter every day, though. I promise I’m being a little bit more responsible.
Tubefilter: Do you try to follow taste profiles? Like maybe something wouldn’t be good in gin, but it’s good in vodka?
RD: Now that I know what alcohols taste like. I don’t actually drink often at all. I keep it as professional as possible. I don’t want to ever form some sort of a dependency or addiction, because it runs in my family. My mom, my dad.
So for me, and I love being open and honest with it. I don’t have an addictive personality, which is great. So me being able to make it a professional thing and not be like, “Oh man, can’t wait to go drink.” Because that’d be bad. I probably have like thousands of alcohol bottles in the basement. I could easily just go down there and shovel them back and be dead the next morning.
I don’t like alcohol tastes in general, but now that I’ve actually had rum and different types of gins, different whiskeys and the like, I’ve learned it. It’s easier for me to know what definitely will work. But sometimes I go against the grain because I don’t like following what I know will work. I make it interesting.
Like I knew that the rum that I currently have is really tasty, but it has a sharp kick at the end. I wanted to do the Werther’s original caramel that I did in whiskey that paired so well and put it in with the rum to see if it would smooth out that last little note. And it did, which was like, “Oh my god, what have I created here?” So as I get better, I still want to go against that grain.
Tubefilter: Have you thought about parlaying this into creating flavored alcohol as a job?
RD: Well…Give me 13 seconds.
RD: Can you see my video?
RD: All right. I introduce you to the first unveiling of…Vdoka!
Tubefilter: Oh, very cool.
RD: We’ve been working on this for so many months, just trying to figure it out.
Tubefilter: What distillery did you work with?
RD: This is through Smooth 42 Craft Distillery. They’ve been doing a bunch with my videos since the early days, and I think we all had the idea of like, how can we make this really fun and not stupid. What makes the most sense that a guy like me would come out with a really good tasting liquor of some sort?
And they were like, “Why don’t we make a vodka? You can come out and figure out the flavor profile. You can actually make it and we can capture like…” your essence in a bottle, which kind of sounds weird. [laughs] But like, it’s like, does it taste like Ryan? So that’s where it’s at right now. It’s not released yet. But it’ll be on shelves within the next month.
Tubefilter: Tell me more about it! Is it…I don’t want to say “plain,” but is it a plain, non-flavored vodka?
RD: Yeah, so it’s your standard vodka. It’s made with Saskatchewan local grains, so it’s not using potatoes or whatever. It’s just a non-flavored vodka. I wanted to do that because I want people to be able to hopefully purchase it to infuse things themselves. I’m gonna be using just this one strictly now as my only vodka in videos, and now it gives people an ability to experience the same flavors that I would experience. That’s pretty much it. The name is Vdoka because would you believe it, the name vodka has my last name in it.
Tubefilter: How long did it take you to formulate it?
RD: Me and Smooth 42 have been working together for a little over a year, I believe. They reached out to me when I was doing my first vodka videos and they were like, “Hey, we wanna send you some vodka.” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
My big thing is, like, I’m in Regina, Saskatchewan. We’re such a very small city. We’re also incredibly bright and vivid in our alcohol industry and the breweries we have. I work with all of our breweries, like Rebellion Brewery and Pile O’ Bones as well. It’s just phenomenal. I love working with them. But the distilleries, they’re not massive, but they’re not super small, but they’re small enough that I want to be able to support them. So I have close to half a billion views now on all of these videos and a majority of them are just local spirits.
This idea came out about seven to eight months ago and I’ve been working on it ever since, just here and there, and now it’s a reality and I’m like my god things are coming so fast.
Tubefilter: This might be a little too forward-looking, but are you thinking of doing anything more? Or is that reliant on how the vodka does?
RD: It’s relying on how the vodka goes. There’s definitely a bunch of ideas in the chamber that I can’t share, but I’m feeling very good about this vodka and how it’ll perform. So I don’t know. We’ll see kind of how it goes after the first like three months. Or, as businesspeople call it, the first quarter.
Tubefilter: Do you have any plans for the rest of this year, aside from releasing Vdoka and moving into long-form?
RD: Definitely. I have a gaming channel as well that I’m starting up. I’m trying to figure that one out, just because it’s a big time commitment that I want to balance with my work and life, which is very unbalanced. I think the biggest thing right now is travel. I want to be able to travel around and go to these different places just to witness my own Saskatchewan heritage. I want to do fan meets and stuff. Unfortunately I didn’t get to VidCon this year. But next year—let’s go.
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