How A Texas Oil Guy Built A World-Class Vodka Company Worth $2.5 Billion

When you think of vodka, the first brands that may come to your mind are Smirnoff from Russia, Absolut from Sweden, Grey Goose from France, Finlandia from Finland, Ketel One from the Netherlands or Belvedere from Poland. However, one of the most popular vodkas in recent years is Tito’s Vodka. There are many reasons that Tito’s Vodka popularity is rather shocking, for one, it is not made in Europe, but rather Texas, which is not exactly known for being a vodka hotspot. Another surprising fact about Tito’s Vodka is that it doesn’t have a centuries-old history. Tito’s Vodka only began commercial production in 1997 under the company Fifth Generation, and only 20 years later this spirits company has an extraordinary worth of $2.5 billion. The guy who made it all happen is actually not named Tito, but instead, his name is Bert Beveridge, a guy who spent a good amount of his life in the oil business.

You would think with a last name like “Beveridge,” that Bert would have been born to be in the spirits industry. However, Bert enrolled at Vanderbilt for a year and then attended the University of Texas at Austin where he majored in geology and geophysics. After he graduated, he began a career in the oil and gas industry. Soon after, he left Texas to work in oil-rich Venezuela and Colombia. He came back home and started a drilling company in Houston. In the early 1990s, he ditched the drilling rigs for a mortgage business.

With his free time during his mortgage work, Bert started making flavored vodkas and he gave his boozy concoctions to his friends as Christmas gifts. Bert explains the first time that he ever considered selling his vodka.

“That was in about I guess ’92, ’93. I was at a party one time and a stranger came up to me and said ‘Hey you’re the vodka guy’ and I was like no, contraire, I am the mortgage guy. And that’s when I kinda started thinking that this guy’s telling me I need to go sell my flavored vodkas and this was the first time I really started thinking seriously about it.”

The first time Bert attempted to sell his vodka to local liquor stores, it didn’t go as planned. The store owners told Beveridge that they weren’t interested. However, they gave Bert some valuable advice, “They said the market was too crowded, but that if I could make a smooth vodka that young women could drink straight, I’d have something. I asked how. They said they didn’t know, and told me to figure it out.” Bert was not discouraged and only more inspired.

In a time when the internet wasn’t the information superhighway that it is today, he went to the library to read books on how to distill spirits. At this point, Bert didn’t have much money, but he believed in himself and his vodka. Beveridge wasn’t able to procure financing for his distillery since there had never been a legal distillery in Texas and banks had major doubts that he would get a distributor. Bert had come this far and wasn’t about to give up on his dreams so he got his permits for a distillery after finding a loophole and borrowed $88,000 on 19 credit cards to get Tito’s Vodka started. While he was in the process of developing his vodka, he slept on couches and floors so he could have enough money to perfect his spirit with his fledgling business.

Bert decided that he would make his vodka out of yellow corn, instead of the more commonly used bases of wheat or potatoes. The result is a somewhat sweeter aftertaste than other vodkas. Through trial and error and taste test after taste test with his guinea pig friends, Bert finally engineered his vodka to the point where he and his friends liked Tito’s Vodka better than any other vodka on the market.

Then Bert, who had the nickname “Bertito” (Little Bert) since he was a small child, finally got his big break in 2001. Beveridge was invited to enlist Tito’s Vodka in the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, so he sent a couple bottles of his liquor to go up against 71 of the best vodkas on the planet. Tito’s Vodka won the coveted double gold medal. By 2013, Tito’s Vodka was the exclusive vodka brand served on all United Airlines, American Airlines, and Jet Blue flights.

This week, Beveridge made The Forbes 400, an esteemed list of the 400 wealthiest people in America. What started as a 16-gallon pot still in 1997 is now a $2.5 billion vodka behemoth that sold an estimated 45 million bottles of Tito’s last year and is estimated to sell 58 million bottles in 2017. Bert Beveridge proves that you should never give up on your dreams no matter the obstacles and how much hard work you have to put into it.