Creating a new brand of vodka is no easy feat when you consider your competition from brands like Grey Goose, Absolut, Smirnoff, Stoli, and Skyy, all of which have all of which are brands that have massive portfolio’s and worldwide distribution. Bert “Tito” Beveridge is like the Elon Musk of the vodka industry. As fitting as his last name is, the 55-year-old Texan hit the jackpot with his creation, which was born out of his home in Austin, Texas.
“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.” – Bert ‘Tito’ Beveridge
This is a story of perseverance, determination, hard work, and proof that even the loftiest of goals can be accomplished with enough time and effort.
Meet Bert Butler Beveridge II, known as Tito, born in 1961 in San Antonio, Texas. As a child, he grew up wanting to be a doctor. He had a natural talent for all things science and enrolled in a pre-med program. While in college, Tito figured out what he really wanted to do with his life, and thus double majored in geology, geophysics, and riff raff. Beveridge was no model student during his college years, when he was arrested for DUI, assault, and exposure but had all the charges dismissed as college shenanigans. I think it’s safe to assume his rebelliousness was exacerbated by alcohol.
Soon after graduating, he moved to Houston in the 1980’s to try to get his own piece of the booming Texas oil industry, which was rapidly expanding globally. He moved to Venezuela and Columbia to put his geophysicist degree to good use. While living in South America, Beveridge passed his time picking wild fruits to ferment and make them into something that resembled wine.
After a few years in South America, Beveridge returned to Texas and settled down near Houston in a town called Alvin Texas, where he worked as an independent oilman, going on to start his own drilling company. Despite making good money, his heart wasn’t in the oil game, so he moved to Austin where he worked as an environmental engineer on oil business projects. He soon realized he was done with the oil business and started working as a mortgage broker… which he soon found to be even more dull than expected.
In the early 1990’s, Tito found himself at a crossroads, trying to find work that made him happy and gave him a sense of purpose. One of his hobbies at the time was infusing spicy pepper in store bought vodka to create habanero flavored vodka for his friends. As he stayed up late into the night working on his spicy blend, he saw an infomercial which featured a motivational speaker that changed his life forever:
“If you want to find your dream job, find your passion. Then sit down with a pen and paper, draw a line down the middle of the page, and on the left make a list everything you love to do, then on the right, write down what you are good at doing. Once you’ve done that, find what you’re best suited for, and make it happen.”
After returning from a party, likely a bit intoxicated, Tito grabbed a pen and paper and did the exercise, leading him to these three realizations:
- He enjoyed meeting new people
- He was good at sales
- He loved making spirits
And that’s how Tito’s Handmade Vodka was born out of a moment of inebriated inspiration drawn from an infomercial.
Tito took a trip to his local liquor store to learn what it would take to start a vodka distillery. The store owner encouraged him, saying that he believed it could be done despite having never occurred before. He then offered a valuable piece of advice: If he could make a really smooth vodka that women would drink straight, he might find himself tapping into a highly lucrative market. That was all he needed to hear. He decided he would start a vodka business not just because it was his favorite spirit, but also because it would be a great way to meet women and be able to write off his bar tab.
In 1993 there wasn’t a single distillery in the state of Texas, so it may not come as a surprise that he was denied for a license by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). They warned him that the laws strictly forbid distilleries, but that didn’t stop Tito. His years spent reading and finding loopholes during his time as a geologist led him to discover that there wasn’t any specific law in Texas forbidding him from starting a distillery. He returned to the TABC and was told that if he could obtain a federal license, they’d grant him a state license.
It’s worth remembering that entering the vodka business was highly risky, with thousands of brands that have failed. At the time, Vodka was the most competitive spirit in the liquor industry, making up nearly a third of the distilled spirits consumption in the United States.
After two years of unrelenting effort, Beveridge was granted a federal license and the TABC was true to their word, issuing him the first license to distill in the state of Texas. All he needed to do now was figure out how to finance all the equipment necessary and learn how to make the vodka from scratch.
That led him to visit bourbon distilleries on an exploratory mission to learn their process. One of the distillers at Jim Beam offered Tito a number of important tips for “micro” distilling, so armed with this new information he built a pot still from scratch and started finessing the recipe for Tito’s Handmade Vodka. After experimenting with various grains, he settled on corn for his vodka. It was time to start a larger scale operation, but first he needed the equipment.
To fund his operation, Beveridge approached a number of banks, but was rejected time and time again. Then he tried obtaining private funding, but got the same response. The countless denials failed to deter him; they only solidified his determination and resolve. He opened 19 credit cards for Tito Beveridge to fund his business, which were issued by the same banks that denied his business loan. He quickly ran up $90,000 in charges, and soon after learned that his girlfriend was pregnant. Maybe it was the pressure of being buried in debt and a child on the way that motivated Tito to succeed against all odds.
In 1997, the one-man distillery sold its first case of vodka. It was Tito who made the vodka, bottled it, and loaded the cases onto a truck for delivery. During this time, he freed up funds by paying off his credit card debt using another credit card. For the next years, Tito didn’t make a single penny of profit.
In 1998, Tito’s Handmade Vodka was getting positive reviews from critics, which led to the head of the cocktail program at The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas sampling the vodka, and pleased with the taste Beveridge was invited to come to the luxury hotel to do a tasting presentation for his staff. The Bellagio was one of Tito’s first and largest accounts.
Tito’s has now expanded to being sold in all 50 states, and in 2001 Tito’s Handmade Vodka won the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Tito’s was awarded the most prestigious prize, the Double Gold Medal. According to Tito, this was his tipping point. After that, business began booming.
Tito’s has grown significantly since its days being distilled out of his kitchen, and is now located in a distillery with a custom-made 12,000 gallon still in Austin, Texas. The Tito’s Handmade Vodka brand has grown to be a household name over the last 19-years without ever spending money on advertising.
Tito’s work ethic hasn’t changed despite all the success. He still works the distillery every day, testing batches of vodka and managing the vodka business. After nearly two decades, he still retains 100% ownership of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which sold over 45 million bottles in 2016, and 63 million bottles in 2017. After years of perseverance and overcoming all odds, Bert Beveridge’s net worth is $4 billion.
His story goes to show that it’s never too late to find what you’re passionate about and turn your dreams into reality.
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