Tito’s Handmade Vodka was born of one man’s passion. In the early ‘90s, Tito Beveridge was distilling vodka as a gift for friends. He opened the first legal Texas distillery in 1997, and ever since has produced straight vodka. I recently spoke with Nicole A. Portwood, VP Brand Marketing for Tito’s (pictured above), about the spirit and its role in the expanding craft market.
BD: What makes your product “craft” vodka?
NP: For us, the core differentiators are Tito, the pot-distillation process, being an independent company and focusing on one brand. Tito’s entrepreneurialism and pioneering craft approach date back to a time when there was no such thing as a micro-distillery. Our process hinges on human involvement, and we still have no flavors or line extensions. We do one thing and we do it well.
BD: How does vodka fit into the overall craft category?
NP: We think people are looking for quality products that also have a real human story behind them. The changes in the economic landscape across the world have led to a realignment of priorities for so many people, and that’s impacting their choices. It’s not enough to just make great vodka — people want to know the “why” behind it, to understand the depth and dynamics that brought it into being. That’s a shift that we won’t be going back on any time soon.
BD: What do you gain from old-fashioned pot still distillation?
NP: Pot distillation allows for more refined head and tail cuts, which we do primarily by taste. Tito stands by the process, despite the fact that it’s much more time-consuming and not as efficient as column distillation. It allows us to craft a soft, rounded feel.
BD: What separates your vodka from others?
NP: In addition to what I mentioned earlier, Tito’s is made from corn, which not only makes it Gluten-Free, but also lends the spirit its slight sweetness, rounded shoulders and soft finish. We’ve stuck to doing one thing and doing it well for almost 20 years now, investing our resources into the liquid in the bottle rather than expensive packaging or marketing campaigns.
BD: Are vodka connoisseurs on the rise?
NP: Vodka is definitely gaining a newfound respect (or perhaps reclaiming is a better way to put it). Bartenders are finding new ways to get creative with it, using infusions and fresh ingredients, and that’s giving consumers a huge variety of new choices. Consumers are also embracing in-home creativity with all the new information and tools available to them – whether via home cocktail kits delivered right to your door, or instructional videos online. So, yes, connoisseurship is certainly on the rise as education grows.
BD: How is the vodka market in Texas?
NP: It’s good! Texas is our home state, and one that is not exactly known as a hotbed for vodka, being traditionally associated with brown spirits. We’ve found an amazing connection with fans here, and have even converted some avowed whiskey drinkers.
BD: How has social media helped you grow?
NP: Social media is the best tool around to have one-on-one conversations at scale. We have a lot of love for our fans, and we take our commitment to communicating with them to heart. We handle all of that in-house because we believe in those human connections and are not comfortable farming them out to anyone not invested in the brand.
It’s definitely had an impact on our overall awareness, since people use the social space as a recommendation engine. We’ve been the incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of a lot of word-of-mouth awareness, and social media is just another way people engage in that recommendation activity. BD
Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org