The famed ‘Tito’s Handmade Vodka’ from Austin-Texas is now available in New Zealand. On a shelf of luxurious brands designed for the nightclub table, Tito’s tends not to stand out, yet it has been a unanimous double gold medal winner in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Bert Butler ‘Tito’ Beveridge II grew up in Texas playing Polo and wanting to train horses. At University he studied geophysics and geology, and worked his way into the oil business, travelling between Houston and South America. Yearning for air conditioning, he then sold mortgages for a time, until the real estate market collapsed and he found himself unemployed. One evening on late night TV he came across a motivational speaker whose clichéd advice changed his life. “Find the intersection of what you love to do and what you’re good at”. This whole time his hobby had been distilling cheap vodka as gifts for his friends. It was time to take things seriously.
At the time it was supposedly illegal to have a distillery in Texas. Tito went through the 3-inch thick codebook, and proved to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that there was no such statue. They then sent it to the Feds, who claimed they could only license companies, not individuals. Tito won that fight too. This was during their third tax audit of him, when he was cited for 26 code violations. He couldn’t afford a lawyer so defended himself, and got every violation dismissed as he knew the laws so well.
Tito had purchased 12 acres in Travis County, and established the distillery after squeezing $90,000 from 19 credit cards. Starting with a homemade 16 gallon pot still, which was cobbled together from a turkey-frying rig and two Dr Pepper kegs. For the first 6 years, every bottle was filled and sealed by hand before they could afford a machine to do it.
He then built his brand by walking the pavements of Austin, telling his story, and giving away samples. Lots of samples. He would be at every bar, convincing reluctant managers by doing blind taste tests against expensive bottles. He would hand out tastes in small neighbourhood liquor stores, and be at every new gallery opening, unloading the boxes and pouring drinks himself. He designed the simple label on his computer, using the fanciest font he could find. He was dating a girl at the time who insisted he use recycled paper on his simple glass bottle. “I was raised that if you are going to do something, do it right, do it better than anyone else, and charge a reasonable price.”
There are some major points of difference with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, starting with the fact it is produced from American yellow corn, rather than wheat or potatoes. Tito believes that corn retains more smoothness and body after distillation. This of course makes it gluten-free (It’s also sugar and gelatine free). It is distilled an incredible six times, in old-fashioned copper pot stills. This requires a lot more time and effort than the usual vodka column stills, creating a richer, broader and more flavoured spirit. Finally it is filtered through activated carbon, the finishing touch on one of the world’s finest Vodkas.