Nicole Portwood On Tito’s Vodka Turning 20

There was a time when Tito’s Handmade Vodka was not ubiquitous. That was before the oil-driller-turned-mortgage-salesman-turned-craft distiller Tito Beveridge hand-built his own copper pot still in Austin, TX, in the ‘90s.

Two decades later, his vodka brand is seemingly in every store and back bar across America, with an international following as well. Tito’s remains independent and has never expanded beyond its original flavor. Recently we spoke with Nicole Portwood, VP of brand marketing for Tito’s Handmade Vodka, about this 20th anniversary.

Beverage Dynamics: What’s it take to reach two decades?
Nicole Portwood: Total commitment. Tito is the sort of guy who when he commits to something, he’s going to do it. Even if people tell him he’s crazy, even if he needs to raise money out of his own pocket: that’s what initially made him a success and it’s what still drives us.

Tito Beveridge founded his self-named vodka brand 20 years ago. Today it is a global brand, among the best selling and most visible in the U.S.

BD: How come Tito’s has never expanded beyond one product?
NP: More can complicate things. And things are going so well for us. We you don’t have a board of directors or shareholders to answer to. They’re usually what drive other companies to make new products. Our sales team only has one product they have to sell. Same for marketing. And when you have to focus only on one thing, it’s very empowering.

With the flavor game, we get it from a financial standpoint. But Tito doesn’t want that. The preservatives necessary to allow product to last on the shelf, he doesn’t like that. So we talk a lot about infusions. Want an orange-flavored Titos? Cut an orange peel and put it down a bottle and let it sit.

BD: How has Tito’s resonated with the craft movement?
NP: The independent spirit of the brand. It’s one guy who owns it, who originally built the distillery with his own hands. That comes out in the liquid in the bottle. We’re now an international brand, but we still use copper pot stills, plastic caps and recycled paper labels. Maintaining those high-quality processes, that means something to people.

When a lot of companies grow large, their leaders begin to cut corners. Fans notice those things. We’ve grown thanks to a white-hot engine of word-of-mouth, and we don’t want to let those people down.

BD: Why has Tito never sold the brand?
NP: At this point, he’s already done all the hard work, so why would he sell now? In the beginning, when offers originally began to roll in, I think it was a pride thing. It has his name on the bottle, and back in the day when he was trying to raise capital and nobody believed in him, where were the offers then?

BD: Tito obviously remains a huge asset for the company.
NP: His story and charisma have been the cornerstone of our brand. His American dream story really resonates with consumers and trade. He came out of nowhere, made vodka out of corn in an inefficient process, made it big, and has stayed independent. That enthusiasm has lit a fire for us.

He doesn’t have to work in a financial sense, but I believe Tito Beveridge is a man who has to work hard. What drives him is his connection to the human spirit. He genuinely loves people and their own love of life and ideas.

BD: How has Tito’s responded to the craft vodka explosion?
NP: Obviously we look at what’s happening with competition. But we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. We do what we do. There’s a lot of great vodka out there now. Which is awesome, because it means people have more choice. And we’re honored that they continue to choose Tito’s.

BD: What’s next for Tito’s?
NP: More of the same. We’re focusing on our Vodka For Dog People platform. That’s our animal welfare platform that includes shelter volunteer drives and adoption happy hours. And in general we’ve focusing more on nonprofit work. That’s really important to Tito, and we’re continuing to shift in that direction.

I think the next 20 years will are going to be as much fun as the first 20!

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 7 Wine Trends To Watch In 2017.

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