Beverage & Bar Features
Tito's Handmade Vodka
The story of Tito's Handmade Vodka, Texas' only legally distilled spirit, is both inspirational and terrifying. And for pretty much the same reasons.
It's inspirational from the perseverance-pays-off perspective, and terrifying from the $80,000 in debt with two mortgages and 12 maxed out credit cards point of view.
Austin's Tito Beveridge (yes, he knows how ironic his name is and yes, he's heard all the name jokes, so don't even bother.) started making flavored vodka when he was in college at the University of Texas. "I'd buy some cheap vodka and infuse it with different things and give it to my friends for Christmas. They all thought it was pretty good and said I should go into business."
A geophysicist by trade, Beveridge's idea of market research was to go into the nearest liquor store and ask them if they sold a lot of flavored vodka. "They told me they couldn't give it away. They were going to throw rocks at the next guy who came in trying to sell them some."
What Beveridge learned was that a high-quality vodka would sell much better than some candy-flavored knockoff. "They told me that women are much more discriminating than men and that I should make something that would appeal to women."
Beveridge calls on his background as a geologist to explain the difference between men and women's tastes. "I used to work in the oil fields and I've seen lots of guys sleeping on concrete. I've never seen a woman sleeping on concrete. Women will complain about the thread count in sheets. Guys are glad just to have sheets. So I thought there must be something to that. I decided that if I could make a vodka good enough for women, then it would certainly be good enough for men. That's what I set out to do."
In the ten years since then, Beveridge's old-fashioned pot still has grown from 16 gallons to 12,000 gallons. His debts grew even faster.
"I went through two rounds of trying to find financing. No one would back me. There wasn't a single legal distillery in Texas. No one thought I would be able to get a license and then no one thought I'd be able to find a distributor so no one wanted to invest. That's pretty tough. You sell and you sell and you sell and you come up with nothing. You can't help but take that personally."
Rather than give up, Beveridge, 43, financed his own operation with credit cards. "Trust me, that wasn't by design. I wouldn't recommend it."
The business wasn't even operating on a shoestring. Beveridge wished he had that luxury.
"I knew that I could get Texans to try it. I also knew that if it wasn't good, they'd tell 100 of their friends to stay away from it. Curiosity would sell the first bottle and that if it was good, Texans would tell all their friends about it and support it because it was made here."
With virtually no cash available, he applied for every card he could get. When the introductory finance rate on one would expire, he'd transfer the balance to another and start over. Beveridge recalls the lean months when he'd have to balance his checkbook as often as four times a day. "I'd have to balance it before I could sign for deliveries to make sure I had enough to cover them.
"When I'd pay my bills, I'd write the check amount on the outside of the envelope. I'd send in all the little payments and hang onto the others. I'd have to wait until I got another check in before I could mail in another one of the bills."
What's this? Texas Vodka!Beveridge was right about Texans supporting a home-grown product. As word spread and sales began to grow, he was able to reduce his debts and increase production. "Our first year on the shelf, we sold 1,000 cases. Next year, we're shooting for 100,000."
But home state support can only account for part of the success of Tito's. Winning double gold in the 2001 World Spirits Competition against vodkas from all over the world paid big dividends as well. The "Double Gold" designation meant that Tito's was not only judged the best tasting vodka among all competitors, but was the unanimous number one pick by the panel of judges.
Being affordable doesn't hurt either. "I wanted to make good vodka," Beveridge explains. "But I also wanted to make it accessible. I know I wouldn't go out and spend $30 or $40 for a fifth of vodka but I'd pay $16. So now we're able to appeal to the entire market. People with all the money in the world buy it because it's the best tasting vodka there is. And people who don't have all the money in the world buy it because it's not only the best tasting vodka there is but it's also affordable. I've had liquor store owners tell me it's the number one seller in their entire store. Not just vodka, but everything. They sell more Tito's than any other liquor."
Reviewers are equally impressed calling Tito's, "smooth and easy drinking," and, "textbook vodka."
Today, with a reputation for world-class vodka, distribution in 41 states and the credit cards retired, Beveridge leans back behind his cluttered desk and looks back on his days of dancing on the razor's edge with satisfaction. "It's one of those 'thank God for unanswered prayers,' situations. No one wanted in back then so now I'm the sole owner. I don't have any partners trying to sue me. I don't have anyone looking over my shoulder trying to tell me how to do things."
Tito's Sweet O
Tito's Texas Limeade
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