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When you think of award winning vodka (or any vodka at all!) you don't naturally think of the sunny climate of the American state of Texas. Images of stern men in bearskin hats surrounded by copious amounts of snow is more akin to most peoples' initial thoughts and the Russians have had that stereotype nailed for years. They've also had the vodka market cornered in much the same way and the country produces many of the world's best vodkas; sure, they've had competition from the likes of France with Grey Goose but I'm sure they never thought a Texan would beat them at their own game. The vodka causing all the upset is Tito's Handmade Vodka and it's made at the Mockingbird Distillery in Austin, Texas which the first and oldest legal distillery in the state. At the helm of this operation is Bert Butler Beveridge (that's honestly his real name!), a born and bred Texan who used to work in the oil industry before moving into the mortgage sector. After property prices plummeted in the US, Bert decided to turn his hobby of making flavoured vodka for his friends into a proper business venture. His nickname 'Tito', which was given to him by his Latino childminders, has stuck with him and that's what he decided to call the vodka.
Firstly, let's start by saying this is a truly gorgeous vodka; super smooth and with a slight sweetness that is derived by using yellow corn as opposed to the more common wheat or potato. The vodka is then distilled six times because apparently "five times is not enough and after 7 it makes no difference". This really is a hand crafted vodka as Tito started distilling with just one potstill made from two Dr. Pepper kegs and a BBQ! Obviously things have progressed sine then but this is still very much an artisan product; Tito says that despite the fact he now has ten potstills, the vodka is still made in exactly the same way and all on the distillery's holding in Texas. Despite having grown from a one man operation in a wood shed producing just 1000 cases a year in 1997 to having a turnover of 25 acres and around a $85 million turnover in 2013, the company's personnel roster numbers just under 18 employees. The vodka really took off after many years of gruelling work and living on a shoestring budget when, in 2001, Tito's Vodka was awarded a Gold Double medal at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition for the best vodka. This was an exceptional feat as 70 other premium vodkas were also in the running; Grey Goose, Belvedere and Ketel One to name just a few! Tito's Vodka annihilated the competition as to get a double gold, all of the judges have to come to a unanimous decision on the winner. What's even more amazing is that the majority of these vodkas boasted a substantially higher price tag; a bottle of Belvedere will set you back over £35 whereas Tito's is more around the £27 price point. This was the first of many awards including scoring a massive 95 points from Wine Enthusiast, scoring 4 stars in the Spirits Journal and being voted the the World's Best Vodka and Tonic at the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge. The prestige of the brand was raised even higher when, in 2013, it became the exclusive vodka served on all United Airlines flights. It was certainly a struggle for Tito to get his distillery up and running due to the state of Texas having never approved one in its entire history based on a notion that the law prevented it. After much reading through legislation and state law, Tito managed to prove that there was in fact no regulation preventing a distillery to be opened and his license was approved. Money was also an issue with Tito having to ring about £45,000 from various credit cards in order to get setup. He bought 13 acres of land and had to continually bounce the debt from one card to another just to keep his head above water. Before winning the Double Gold in 2001, Tito spent many nights sofa surfing in order to get his vodka out there to the masses, a feat he achieved pretty much single-handedly and through word of mouth alone. In the end all his hard work, dedication and massive financial risk paid off and Tito has created a vodka revolution that has grown beyond anything he could have expected initially. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy either, as Tito has created a sanctuary for abandoned cats and dogs on the distillery's land and has rescued over 100 animals since he started. I think that goes a long way in showing what kind of a man he is. You can see what all the fuss is about by grabbing yourself a bottle of Tito's Handmade Vodka here.