The Untold Truth Of Tito's Handmade Vodka

If you're a vodka drinker — or even if you aren't — you're likely more than familiar with Tito's Handmade. You can find it at most bars and essentially every liquor store in the country. While the United States isn't typically associated with vodka production, Tito's is distilled in Austin, Texas. The vodka has only been around since 1997 — but it is now more popular here than varieties from Russia or Poland (via VinePair). 

Ringing in at around $20 for a fifth, Tito's may not be considered a top-shelf vodka, but don't let that lower price point scare you away. Alcohol experts report that vodka pricing is often based on marketing and image anyway, not to mention that many vodka lovers swear by Tito's, including Mashed (it's at the top of our popular vodka brand rankings). Here's everything you need to know about Tito's before you order your next vodka soda or dirty martini. 

A man named Beveridge founded the beverage company

The founder of Tito's Handmade Vodka — Bert Butler Beveridge II — is a compelling figure for a number of reasons. He not only has the most on-the-nose name for the CEO of a beverage company, he also named his vodka brand after his nickname: Tito (via Austin Monthly).

Beveridge didn't start out as a spirits entrepreneur. The Texan had quite a winding path to becoming a celebrated distiller. He spent the beginning of his career in oil after majoring in geology and geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. However, Beveridge's first entrepreneurial ventures were not meant to be. According to Austin Monthly, he founded his own oil company, went bankrupt, and then his own drilling company which also folded. After the volatility of the oil industry became too much, he pivoted to mortgage sales. Adrift in his career, Beveridge took up a hobby of infusing store-bought vodka with various flavors, which he then gifted to friends.

Little did he know that the passion project would soon turn profitable, to say the least. Beveridge — who is estimated to be worth $4.8 billion — made the Forbes 400 list (yet again) in 2021. That's quite an acheivement for a man who had no idea what he wanted to do for the first decades of adulthood.

The idea for Tito's was born out of a self-help activity

With all the career changing that Burt Beveridge did before founding Tito's Handmade Vodka, it's likely not a surprise that the idea to launch the business came to him thanks to a self-help activity. One night in 1993 after a party, Beveridge flipped on a TV show that featured a motivational speaker sharing tips for finding the right career path (via Austin Monthly). The speaker suggested that someone can figure out their passion by creating a chart that includes what you are good at and what you like to do — what lies in the intersection are the elements you should look for in your career.

On Beveridge's chart — which is featured on Tito's website — he wrote that he was good at engineering and science, as well as dealing with people, sales, and inventing things. For things he liked to do, he included being around people, building things, and nightlife (as well as "talking to girls").

Going into the distilling business where he'd work with people and launch a new product was the clear combination of what he loved and what he thought he was good at. Plus his interesting career path likely gave him a good opening line to "talk to girls."

Tito's is now America's best-selling spirit

Speaking of liquor sales, Tito's Handmade Vodka has been the best-selling vodka in the United States for the past few years, according to VinePair. The company grew over 20% in sales and overtook Russian vodka brand Smirnoff back in 2019. And not only did the Austin-based Tito's take over the vodka category, it also became the best-selling distilled spirit in the United States overall that same year. (This is in part because Americans love their vodka. Forty percent of us drank it regularly in 2018, per Statista.)

The exponential growth numbers for Tito's over the past decade are pretty outstanding. Back in 2013, the company sold 1.2 million 9-liter cases; in 2020, it moved 10.35 million 9-liter cases (via Statista). According to VinePair, the surge in sales of the spirit is likely due to its popularity among both consumers and restaurant/bar management. For example, because of "name recognition," many bartenders opt to use Tito's as their call vodka, Punch notes. So, if your go-to bar order is a Tito's and soda, you wouldn't be alone.

We know Tito's is distilled from corn, but not much else about how it's produced

Bert "Tito" Beveridge is open about his fascinating origin story as a vodka maker, but keeps pretty tight-lipped about the specifics around his eponymous vodka. What we do know is that it is a grain vodka rather potato which is typical for many other versions of the spirit. Specifically, it's made with 100% corn. 

So how did Beveridge create his recipe for Tito's? According to the Tito's Handmade Vodka website, it wasn't exactly easy to teach yourself in the pre-internet days of the '90s. Beveridge eventually uncovered photos showing how vodka was made during prohibition. Distillers at that time would create stills — apparatuses used for distilling — with a copper pipe and an outdoor fryer (to provide heat). Beveridge says he tried countless recipes and just kept messing with his formula until he thought his spirit was better than the two best vodkas he had tasted. What he ended up with was a vodka that can be enjoyed straight — or so the company claims.

Other than that, we don't know a lot about Tito's distilling process — especially in its current day iteration. When Forbes visited the distillery back in 2013, its photographer was directed away from the buildings housing its current-day operations. According to Eater, its likely — given the scale of the company's manufacturing — that the vodka is made by re-distilling a pre-made grain-neutral spirit.

Tito's has been sued multiple times over its 'handmade' claims

Back when Bert Beveridge founded Tito's Handmade Vodka, he truly was making a "handmade" spirit, using a single 16-gallon pot still to distill the spirit (via Eater). However, those days disappeared in the early 2000s with the company's rapid sales expansion. And yet, Beveridge claims his vodka still counts as a craft product. While the American Craft Spirits Association considers a distillery "craft" if production exceeds 750,000 gallons a year, Eater points out that Tito's Handmade Vodka sells millions of cases a year. (According to the Congressional Research Service, "There is no statutory or universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes craft production in the U.S. beverage industry.")

The company has also caused consumer confusion by continuing to describe its vodka as "handmade." According to The Spirits Business, a consumer named Trevor Singleton filed a class action lawsuit against the company back in 2015. He alleged that Tito's deceived vodka drinkers into paying a premium price for the product because of its claim of being handmade. This case (as well as multiple others filed for the same reason) were ultimately settled or thrown out. In response to criticism for keeping "handmade" in the name of his product, Beveridge responded that he still creates vodka in pot stills — just a lot more of them (via Eater).

Beveridge found a loophole in Texas' laws to launch his distillery

The false advertisement cases weren't Bert Beveridge's first run-ins with the law. When the entrepreneur initially tried to launch his business, he was told by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that a distillery had never been licensed in the state because of existing laws (via Forbes). 

Not one to stand down in the face of challenges, Beveridge tapped into the classically Texan rebellious spirit and just found a way around the law. He pored through a lengthy codebook until he located a relevant loophole: The state deferred to federal law (via The Business of Business). If he was able to secure a federal license, that meant that Texas would have to honor his business. Beveridge succeeded in that venture, securing the first distilling license in Texas since prohibition and paving the way for future microdistilleries in the state.

"When [Beveridge] went to get permission [from the state], there was no procedure in place to get a license," David Alan, an Austin-based mixologist and writer told Smithsonian Magazine. Currently, there are around 170 licensed distilleries across the state (via Hill Country Distillers) — and they have Tito's Handmade Vodka to thank.

The founder had to go into credit card debit to get started

Because Texas had never licensed a distillery, people were initially doubtful that Tito's Handmade Vodka was going to go anywhere. Founder Bert Beveridge had a very difficult time attracting investors — with three different rounds of fundraising failing completely, reports Austin Monthly. So, he ended up racking up $88,000 in credit card debt on 19 different cards just to raise the capital he needed to get distilling operations going (via Tito's website). With that money, Beveridge purchased 13 acres of land in the Austin area. He was able to talk the seller down to $33,000 and gave him a $3,000 credit card check as a cash advance, he tells Forbes.

Tito's Handmade Vodka finally hit stores in 1997, however, the company didn't turn any profit for its first eight years in business (via The Business of Business). It wasn't until 2001 that the company had its big break. That's when the vodka won the double gold medal for best vodka at San Francisco World Spirits Competition and catapulted itself into the billion dollar business it is today, reports Forbes.

During the pandemic, some people tried using Tito's as hand sanitizer

In the chaotic early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer was in short supply. A resourceful few thought they found an adequate solution: simply wash your hands in Tito's Handmade Vodka. Right? Wrong. Tito's spent a good amount of time in spring 2020 correcting people on Twitter who thought its vodka made a veritable substitute for hand sanitizer, reports KXAN. The company even released a public statement that, at 40% alcohol, Tito's vodka didn't meet the Center for Disease Control's recommendation that people use a sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol.

Ironically, Tito's did ultimately end up getting in the hand sanitizer game. By the end of March 2020, the distillery started to produce Tito's Hand Cleanser with a plan to donate 24 tons of it to people in need, per the company's website. But Tito's ended up doing way more than that. Before ceasing operations in spring of 2021, the distillery donated over 1,270 tons of the product to frontline workers, nonprofits, and the general public across the United States. The now-defunct offering bore Tito's name on the label — as well as the important distinction that it was "for hands only."

Tito's distillery funds dog rescues

Canine friends and vodka aren't an obvious pairing. But Tito's Homemade Vodka recognizes that its "co-woofers" have been a part of the company since its origins. In fact, Tito's website still celebrates Dogjo, the German Shepherd mix that was by founder Burt Beveridge's side when he created his vodka. Tito's goes above and beyond in terms of loving dogs. Not only is its workplace dog-friendly — just check out some of the stories of its resident canines — the company actually started its own program to help four-legged friends called Vodka For Dog People. 

The idea came to Beveridge because Dogjo's dog food would attract local strays (via Woof Republic). He did what he could to help the stray pooches, which were sometimes adopted by truck drivers who were dropping off supplies to the distillery. However, he wanted to do even more. That's when Beth Bellanti, who was working as the marketing director at this time, stepped up to the plate. According to Woof Republic, she began a partnership with a local animal rescue and would post photos of strays at the distillery on social media to try to get them adopted. These pictures performed better on social than photos of Tito's actual products. This led to the development of Titos's Vodka For Dog People program.

Now, in addition to continuing to rescue strays, the company contributes to over 3,000 annual animal-welfare-related events to support nonprofits' fundraising efforts. Tito's also sells dog merch on its website and donates 100% of the profits to animal-related charities.

Bartenders have a love/hate relationship with the vodka

Ask most bartenders which spirits are most commonly ordered at their bar and Tito's is likely to make the list. According to Cory Dixon of Nurse Bettie in New York City, it's the bar's top-selling vodka (via Thrillist). But being popular and being loved don't always come hand in hand. While some bartenders respect the spirit for its name-recognition and drinkability, others really dislike the vodka. One bartender on Reddit was even inspired to start a thread about how much they hate Tito's vodka, saying that people who drink it "are the worst" and seem to be convinced that it's "the greatest liquor ever made." A Russian bartender jumped in to agree with the original poster, explaining that corn-based vodka retains a taste and smell which Russian vodkas do not have. But other commenters stood up for Tito's, noting that it's better than a lot of "top shelf" vodkas and is excellent for making mix drinks. Another bartender told Punch that "you can't beat the price point and versatility."

So while you may incur some judgment from certain bartenders for your Tito's drink — just make sure to not order a "Tito's and vodka." The all-vodka "cocktail" is mistakenly ordered so frequently that it's become a running joke among bartenders, even earning an honorary spot on one bar's drink menu (via Reddit).

Shorts made out of Tito's burlap bottle bags went viral

Tito's Handmade Vodka has developed some truly diehard fans over the years — ones that like the vodka so much that they actually want to wear it. A few years back, an Instagram post went viral that featured a pair of shorts constructed out of Tito's burlap bottle bags (via Tito's). Textile designer John Tinseth asked his friend Charlie Davidson, who owns the legendary men's clothing store Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to craft the shorts for him.

According to Tito's website, Davidson — who has dressed legends like Miles Davis and John F. Kennedy — made the shorts for his friend from 40 Tito's bottle bags. The company was impressed, to say the least, and decided to create their own version of Davidson's masterpiece. Tito's launched its Charlie Short in 2018 to coincide with its support of Newport Festivals weekend and in honor of Davidson, since he is a notorious jazz lover.

Tito's releases an annual, limited-edition vinyl for Record Store Day

It's no surprise that a vodka produced in a city like Austin might have a direct connection to vinyl. Tito's Handmade Vodka has partnered with Record Store Day for the past eight years to support celebrations, the company reports on its website. The annual event, which was started in 2007 to support independent record stores, features special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional items. Through its partnership with the event, Tito's releases an annual record curated to a given theme. The 2021 record, which was created along with legendary record label Sun Records, was themed "Having a Party." It includes dance-worthy rock, soul, and country tracks from artists that include Jerry Lee Lewis, Alvin Robinson, and Calvin Perkins.

In line with the celebratory spirit of Record Store Day, Tito's team also invented a number of music-themed cocktails to sip while enjoying your new vinyl purchases. One of these, Tito's Charred Vinyl, is inspired by Memphis musician Linda Gail. It features a rosemary and lemon-infused Tito's vodka along with ginger beer, lemon juice, and a lemon twist ,and is served with a burning sprig of rosemary (via Tito's website).

Tito's funds community gardens through its Block to Block program

Tito's Handmade Vodka's many charitable commitments through its Love, Tito's program are part of the backbone of the company. During the early years of Tito's, founder Burt Beveridge began to contribute bottles of his vodka to nonprofits for fundraising events (via Tito's). Twenty-five years in, the company contributes to charities across numerous areas, but it has a specific interest in supporting access to healthy food. According to Tito's website, the idea for the Block to Block program came about because the company runs a farm adjacent to its distillery. The company operates 74 raised beds and 16 high tunnels and grows fruits and veggies, including avocados, mangos, and beets (via Spectrum News). Workers at the distillery enjoy lunches made from what's grown on the farm and are easily able to take produce home, too. 

But Tito's wanted to expand beyond its own backyard and support community gardens and farms across the country. Tito's now helps fund such spaces in 28 cities across the country — from New Orleans to Detroit to Phoenix. One notable project that Tito's is funding is Trap Garden Nashville (via Nashville News Channel 5). The company's $25,000 donation went toward purchasing a truck that will bring nutritional education and fresh produce into the city's food deserts.

Tito's partners with several high-profile music festivals

Less charitable but equally as interesting is Tito's Homemade Vodka's partnership with famous music festivals across the country. For one, the company has worked with Lollapalooza in Chicago practically since the music festival began (via Tito's). The collaboration includes a Tito's stage and a cocktail bar for general admission ticket holders featuring Tito's vodka drinks.

Tito's also has a long-standing relationship with local mainstay Austin City Limits (ACL). Back in 2002 — the second year of that music festival — founder Burt Beveridge himself showed up to sling vodka cocktails for the music-loving masses. Per the company's website, it was this word-of-mouth salesman approach that led ACL to select a Tito's-based drink as one of its first cocktail choices. The simple drink, called Tito's Sweet O, combines Tito's vodka and sweet tea. The company continues to have a big presence at the fest with a signature stage and a dedicated lounge. 

Beyond the large festivals that Tito's support, the company makes sure to show some love for smaller community-based events, too. Many of these events help raise money for causes that Tito's cares about.

Tito's funds an annual prize for working artists in Austin

Tito's Homemade Vodka is deeply committed to its Austin roots. And with the city's reputation as a haven for artists of all types, it's appropriate that the beverage company sponsors an annual prize for an Austin-based creative. The Tito's Prize, which is funded by Tito's and facilitated by Texas arts nonprofit Big Medium, gives $15,000 annually to a local artist working in any medium and at any stage of their career. The winning artist also receives a solo exhibition at Big Medium Gallery at Canopy.

While Tito's wants to support local art, it doesn't claim to be an expert in the area. Thus the competition is judged by three curators in Austin who definitely know a thing or two about the art scene. Recent winners include Ariel René Jackson in collaboration with Michael J. Love for their work on a performance-based video installation, and Betelhem Makonnen's exploration of temporal anxiety (via Big Medium).