Tito Beveridge, whose namesake vodka brand has won fans the world over, shares tips for finding success in doing what you love
By Sara Perez Webber
Tito Beveridge calls himself a “20-year overnight success.” The founder and owner of Tito’s Handmade Vodka—a geologist-turned-mortgage-broker who started out making flavored vodka infusions as a hobby in the early 1990s—launched the first legal distillery in Texas, beginning commercial production in Austin in 1997.
The pot-distilled vodka brand took off like wildfire. By 2007 more than 160,000 cases of Tito’s Handmade Vodka were sold, and by 2015, that number had reportedly ballooned to a whopping 2.8 million cases (according to Shanken News Daily, a news service that covers the spirits, wine and beer business). In 2014, Tito’s was the 10th best-selling vodka in the U.S., according to research firm IRI—no small feat, considering the young brand was competing against much larger companies with long-established brand names. The Texas brand has won fans internationally as well; Tito’s is distributed in Europe and Asia, and in July the company announced its distribution in the motherland of vodka—Russia.
Beveridge (born Bert Butler Beveridge II, whose childhood nickname “Bertito” was shortened to “Tito”) set out from the beginning to create a vodka so smooth it could be sipped straight. Made from yellow corn, which gives it a sweeter taste than vodka made from wheat or potatoes, Tito’s is distilled six times, and aficionados point to its affordable price as another selling point. In July, Beveridge spoke to caterers and event planners at the annual NACE Experience about how to boost their craft vodka and beverage revenue. He recently shared some of those tips with Catering Magazine, as well as his advice for finding success in doing what you love.
CM: Did you ever think when you were starting out on your own, founding the first craft distillery in Texas, that your vodka brand would eventually be distributed in Russia, the home of vodka?
Beveridge: No way. The idea was to meet some girls and write off my bar tab. I thought that was genius. I was just trying to get it in local bars and liquor stores. International wasn’t even in my brain. Texas is big, and it took me a long time to just get it around here.
CM: Why do you think Tito’s broke through and resonated with customers, when you were competing against so many other, bigger brands?
Beveridge: I think we over-deliver on quality, and people are smart. They think it’s a fair trade. I’ve always thought that people are a lot smarter than the big companies give them credit for.
CM: Why do you think millennials in particular have gravitated toward craft spirits?
Beveridge: I think the millennials like quality and flavor. They don’t drink Bud Lite like their dads did.
CM: How do you plan to continue your strong rate of growth?
Beveridge: The plan is just to focus on quality. It’s never been about anything else. I keep thinking it will flatten out, but it doesn’t. So I will just keep building more stills.
CM: What would you say are the biggest cocktail trends right now?
Beveridge: Tito mules are in. Fresh fruits or fresh mint or basil muddled with Tito’s and then add seltzer; a little agave nectar or simple sugar if needed. Tito’s seltzer lime and orange. Tito’s Arnold Palmer. Tito’s lemonade seltzer. Keep it clean. Less sweet. More natural.
CM: How important is the catering industry as a market for Tito’s?
Beveridge: Catering and events is where the rubber hits the road on celebrating life. That’s what the hospitality business is all about. It’s real important to Tito’s. That’s why I was so pleased to be included [as a speaker at the NACE Experience] this year. Besides the fact that we are helping people celebrate the milestones of their lives, we can also make a living doing it. I started this business on 19 credit cards, like a lot of caterers I know. I never had a marketing budget the first eight or nine years. It was all word of mouth. Catering and events fits right into the way we have always done it—person to person. It’s the hardest and most time-consuming, but also the best way to get loyal fans.
CM: What advice do you have for caterers who want to increase their bar sales and be more imaginative with their beverage offerings?
Beveridge: Offer a higher-grade bar (Tito’s, of course) to start with from the get-go so as not to have to upsell. Come up with a Tito’s mule or Bloody Mary bar. Or offer cocktails on tap, or pre-batch preparation to whip a bunch out at once.
CM: Many caterers are following a dream with their businesses, doing what they love, just like you did. What advice would you give to a caterer who’s struggling to make it and considering giving up?
Beveridge: It took me 10 years of struggling to get it going. Then once it got going, the last 10 years have snowballed. If you love doing it, just hang in there. Generally, people say that the first seven are the toughest. A lot of times it gets really tough right at seven years, almost like the gods are testing you. Just grit your teeth, drink a couple of Tito’s, and take a few deep breaths. It will all work out. Also Google “PechaKucha Tito Beveridge.” It’s a presentation I did on failure. Life is a journey. Success is only a matter of meeting every failure with equal enthusiasm. In the end, your failures are the foundation of your future success. And if you love what you do, what else are you going to do?