It was the early nineties, pre-internet, and Bert “Tito” Beveridge had found himself in somewhat of a career rut. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Beveridge pursued environmental engineering, the oil business and later dabbled in mortgage.But nothing really stuck quite like making flavored vodka did. His go-tos? Habanero, black cherry and orange. Without fail, each Christmas Beveridge would turn out small batches and hand them out as gifts to family and friends. His first pot-still was jimmied out of two Dr. Pepper kegs and a turkey-frying rig. It wasn’t exactly the safest operation, but it got the job done. And people didn’t just like it. They loved it.
It wasn’t long before Beveridge’s entrepreneurial spirit took hold and led him down an uncharted career path: Craft Spirit Distiller. Except there was just one problem. At the time, distilleries were not legal in Texas.
Beveridge was determined to keep his dreams alive. He consulted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission who deferred him to the state who then deferred him to the feds. For awhile his bible was the 3-inch-thick Code of Federal Regulations book. He knew the book well enough to know that what he was doing was kosher. He could cite regulations, chapters and verses in his sleep.
Finally, a breakthrough. He obtained an official license for a microdistillery in Texas--the first of its kind since the Prohibition era. But that was only the beginning for Beveridge, who then needed to get cash. A lot of cash. And so he did --by racking up $90,000 dollars over 19 credit cards. That was just enough to buy him 13 acres for his craft distillery in Travis County, Texas. And thus Tito’s was born...Kind of.
Even his official license wasn't enough to put Tito’s on the map. Beveridge worked tirelessly at his distillery, a true one-man show. He would distill it, bottle it, put it on a truck, and sell it--all by himself. He did all of the financing and marketing, too. Often he slept on a cot in the warehouse. Sometimes his only contact with another lifeform was his trusty dog, Dogjo. The early days were tough, but building his brand was tougher. Every now-and-then his friend in the mortgage biz would throw him a job just to keep the lights on.
It wouldn’t be until years later, in 2001, that Beveridge would receive the phone call that would change his life. He had been invited to attend The San Francisco World Spirits Competition -- one of the oldest and most prestigious of its kind. There, judges blindly test spirits and award them medals. Any medal won at the SFWSC is an impressive achievement in and of itself.
Beveridge didn’t just win any award, though. He took home the double gold medal for best vodka, beating out major brands such as Grey Goose, Belvedere and 70 others. Getting a double gold means Tito’s received a Gold medal rating by all members of the judging panel. Spirits that receive a double gold medal are considered among some of the finest in the world.
“Things moved quicker after that,“ Beveridge said in a 2013 issue of Forbes. And things simply haven’t slowed down since.
More than half of the top 25 vodka brands in the U.S. were either stagnant or declining in volume last year, according to data collected by Shaken News Daily. Consumers are increasingly opting for more domestic brands, and even within the domestic segment, vodka sales have been held afloat largely by the success of Tito’s.
Five of those top vodka brands are in decline, including three top market-share holders, according to Nielsen data analyzed in a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Bryan Spillane. How is this possible? Many industry insiders can conclude on one primary driver: Tito’s is killing the game with their affordable pricing.
Unlike many of Tito’s competitors who have shelled out flavor after flavor over the past decade, Tito’s has kept it simple. Even its no frills bottle hasn’t changed since Beveridge made the label himself in 1994. In fact, the company prides itself on just that. They’d rather put their money into the liquor than the label.
Above all, the brand’s ascent mirror’s broader trends within the beverage industry. Craft distilled or not, today’s consumers want value, no matter the price point.
With the brand eating up so much of the market, other companies are forced to cut costs. Diageo lowered the price premium of Ketel One and Ciroc (sales of which fell dramatically in response to Tito’s rapid growth). In data analyzed over a year from today, Tito's holds a market share of 13.3% of all spirits sold through Provi with a growing average of 19.5% month over month.
Today, Tito’s touts itself as America's original craft distilled vodka and is made the same way it was in 1994. The spirit is batch distilled using old-fashioned pot-stills, unlike the more commonly used column style. The process is a less-efficient way to do things, and far more time consuming than it could be--but that’s just part of Tito’s charm. The spirit is also made from corn instead of wheat, giving it the added bonus of being gluten free.
Whether you’re just interested in the business, or looking to start your own craft distillery, remember all of the sleepless nights will be worth it in the end.