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Community spirit: Tito’s Handmade Vodka

Community is key for vodka brand Tito’s as it looks to translate its success in the US to the UK.

It was all smiles in London in April, as Tito’s Handmade Vodka oversaw a masterclass to a packed house at Shoreditch’s Old Streets Records. Led by Matthew Brennan, Tito’s commercial manager for Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, a number of industry figures from the UK and across the pond were in attendance.

Titled ‘Better Spirits Make Better Drinks’, the day was a chance for the trade in the UK to really understand what makes the vodka brand tick; from the taste of the liquid to how it’s made and where it comes from.

In the US, there’s no such thing as a vodka soda anymore, or rather, it’s been replaced by a Tito’s and Soda, Brennan jokes. And while Tito’s has firmly cemented itself as a household name in its home country, it’s now time for the Texas-born brand to make its mark on the rest of the world, with the UK and Europe prime targets.

Local love

Forging a tight bond with the local community and bartenders is a major part of the brand’s ethos in the US and this was on show at the masterclass, as it worked with Equal Measures – a non-profit organisation that supports underrepresented people in the drinks and hospitality industries in the UK. For every person in attendance, Tito’s donated £100 (US$127) to its cause.

Making connections: tastings and masterclasses are important for relaying Tito’s message

Brennan said: “When we work with an organisation it makes it all worthwhile because Equal Measures is a great organisation that gives back to hospitality.” Not one for celebrity endorsements or flashy TV ads, Tito’s instead takes a ‘liquid to lips’ route to building brand awareness. As long as people in the industry try it, enjoy it and then spread the word outside, the brand believes good things will come. And this sort of straightforward, earnest engagement has been key to establishing a loyal consumer base.

Ashley Wardill, UK key account manager, said: “We want people to love the brand as much as we do, and you can’t do that by dropping a bottle on the back bar, walking away and hoping it sells. You need to be there at events. There’s talking to bartenders, talking to consumers, getting that liquid on lips, letting them know why you’re such a great brand, letting them try having a drink together, mixing it in a Martini and letting them test that against other products and talking about the difference.”

Team player: Tito’s is giving bartenders such as Junior Lewis (pictured) a chance to shine

During the afternoon, guests were able to try a few of the brand’s signature serves, made by bartenders selected by Equal Measures: Sana Barclay, of Funkidory in London, and Junior Lewis, of Rumkeg876 in Sheffield. It was a chance for guests to get a first-hand experience of how the vodka works in cocktails – for instance in a Maize & Rhubarb Highball or the classic Tito’s Soda Lime. “Working with Tito’s, they knew exactly what we wanted and we knew exactly what we needed to do,” said Lewis.

“They allow us to be ourselves, and it showed in the cocktails today; it is a representation of us, as well as Tito’s.”

Sticking to its roots

In the UK, Tito’s has enlisted London-based Spirit Cartel as its new distributor. David Hood, Spirit Cartel’s general manager, who was also in attendance, noted: “I think it’s really important that we do events within the trade as every single one of these people in here will go away and tell their friends. We’re trying to get people to understand that we’re not just about selling large volumes. It’s about doing things the right way. And I think if there’s a brand out there that does that it’s Tito’s.”

As well as the tasting, guests were also given a run through on the brand’s history that dates back over 25 years. After all, Tito’s is a brand with a story to tell. It was founded in the mid-90s by sixth-generation Texan, Bert ‘Tito’ Beveridge, who, having started the idea after being mistakenly labelled as the ‘vodka guy’ at a party, built a 998-square-foot shack, rigged a pot still with spare parts and gained a licence to distil in 1995 – becoming the first legal distillery in Texas.

Full package: much of Tito’s success stems from its founding principles

This all ties into the Tito’s of today, as the brand still operates on the same fundamentals and keeps its packaging and advertising to a minimum. Tito’s is still bottled and distilled in Austin, Texas on the same land where it all started, and the brand has gained a reputation for its high-quality product at a reasonable price.

“It’s a true Texas original and we’ve been independent from the day Tito founded the brand. We sold our first case in 1997 and if someone told me years ago that we’d be selling Tito’s in 150 countries around the globe, they would have amazed me,” Brennan added.

“It’s so important to get liquid to the lips and get the brand out in front of people – our story is so much a part of who we are as a company.”

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