Tito’s Handmade Vodka celebrates 15 years

Source: Examiner.com – Spirits/Portland

November 26, 2012

By Hoke Hardin

Ever notice the first spirit from a new distillery is invariably vodka? There’s a good reason for that: vodka is the quickest, cheapest and most immediately profitable to make. It’s what a profit-savvy company calls “tank to the bank.” But not all vodkas. Some are made with meticulous care in a true small-batch artisanal style.

Texans aren’t noted for doing things the easy way. So when Tito Beveridge (and yes, that’s his real name) decided to make vodka, he wasn’t interested in quick and easy; he was interested in good, because he was planning on putting his name on it, and in Texas your name stands for something. So when Tito got involved in the art and science of distillation, he decided he wanted to make vodka a certain way, an expensive, time-and-labor-intensive way. He wasn’t out for profits, although he figured they would come in time; he was out to make a distinctive style of vodka that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s vodka.

The quick, efficient, and cheap way to make vodka is boil it up in a big multiple-column still, cooking it as fast and at as high a temperature as possible, then run it through a heavy charcoal filtration. That way you burn off most of the flavors and aromas and filter out those you don’t burn off: the result is a neutral spirit.

Tito’s process was just the opposite: he wanted to make his vodka by hand, in small batches, so it was smooth and drinkable all by itself. He figured if it tasted good that way, if people wanted to mix with it as well they’d have a head start on good.

As a global-trotting geophysicist who had shucked it all to go back to Texas, Tito approached vodka making analytically. He made some small-batch copper pot stills so he could slow cook and develop plenty of flavors. Then he distilled repeatedly in those same alembic stills until the vodka tasted just right. Turned out that was about six separate distillations. “Never work.” the big money guys said. “Takes too much time and effort to make vodka that way.” Tito figured they were wrong, so he kept doing it his way, using about 19 different credit cards and his savings stacked up from his years of oil work.

He also had to fight some bureaucratic battles along the way, since his distillery was the first one in Austin. But among other things, Tito is stubborn and persistent, so he managed that too. Once he was legal in the eyes of Texas and the federales, he started making his vodka commercially.

As he was getting established he got an invitation to a spirit competition. Since he was busy fixing up a boiler at the time, he couldn’t go, but he bottled up a couple of bottles and sent them away with an entry form. So happened that was the World Spirits Competition, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka took top honors: out of 72 vodkas from around the world, Tito’s was given a Double Gold Medal by unanimous vote of the judges.

That got some attention, and suddenly the money investors were back. But Tito insisted he wasn’t going to start making his vodka in the big column stills, not as long as his name was on it. So he decided to keep building more pot stills to keep up with the sales, and he’d keep on making real Tito’s Handmade Vodka all by himself.

And that’s what Tito is doing, fifteen years later: he’s still the sole proprietor, making handmade vodka in his pot stills, one batch at a time, looking for that smoothness.

So if you’re a vodka lover, give Tito’s Handmade Vodka a try, iced down and on its lonesome. Even if you’re not a fan of vodka normally, give Tito’s a try; you’ll be surprised how much flavor it has and how rich and velvety-soft it is. Take a sip, roll it around in your mouth, then suck in a little air just as you swallow: No harshness, no scorch, and no ugly medicinal aftertaste; you’ll notice cool flavors, some sweet menthol, but no burn at all, and a gentle warming sensation down your throat.

That’s what handmade vodka tastes like.

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