The story behind Tito's Handmade Vodka began 16 years ago in Austin with a geologist-turned-mortgage-man, Tito Beveridge, and a white German Shepherd mix named Jo. What started as a hobby with one man and his pup sleeping next to a still has since turned into a flourishing business with passionate employees and lots of happy rescue dogs roaming the offices and distillery.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Beth Bellanti, the marketing and brand guru at Tito's for 11 years now, who just so happened to be home visiting family in Kansas City at the same time I was. Over Italian food and iced tea, she told me the inspiring story of Tito and the recent launch of VodkaForDogPeople.com.
First, the vodka. Despite their massive growth over the years, Tito and just three other employees distill the vodka six times by themselves using hand-crafted stills made by Tito himself. It is smooth—real smooth. In 2001, this micro-distillery won the Double Gold Medal for vodka at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, beating out 71 other vodkas. The Dude (AKA Jeff Bridges) even recommends it as the best vodka to mix a White Russian with. I am currently enjoying it with spicy McClure’s Bloody Mary mix and a celery stick. It’s an excellent way to get those creative juices flowing.
Now on to the dogs. The foray into dog rescue was organic for the employees at Tito’s, according to Beth. The distillery is located outside of Austin where feral dog packs are a growing problem. As the dogs started wandering into the distillery looking for food, the employees began to adopt and foster them. Stella, one of Beth’s dogs, was part of one of the first packs to wander on the property. At the marketing office there are usually 3 or more dogs lounging around, while the distillery has many dogs who live on property full-time. You can find these dogs doing the rounds with the 24-hour security team on site.
This year, Tito’s even won the Most Dog-Friendly Office Award from Trupanion Pet Insurance, beating out tough competitors like the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and BISSELL Homecare. The Tito's team has decided to distribute the $5,000 prize to at-need shelters across the country.
Beth let me in on a little secret: the best way to get a meeting with the busier-than-ever Tito is to catch him on his morning walk with the dogs near his home, which also happens to be right by the distillery. He's the real deal.
Over the years, the Tito’s team has taken many of their new furry friends to Emancipet, an Austin-based organization devoted to making spay/neuter and preventative veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners. Now Tito’s has officially partnered with Emancipet; when you purchase a Tito’s dog shirt, leash or bowl, all proceeds will go towards helping the organization reach communities outside of Austin.
The launch of VodkaForDogPeople.com for their dog-saving initiatives shows just how central this campaign is to the culture of Tito’s. The site is filled with photos of customers’ dogs in Tito’s bandanas, snapshots of the dogs around the distillery, and updates about Emancipet, who will be celebrating their 15th anniversary this May. The campaign has taken over Beth's job, and she couldn't be happier about it.
So here's my recommendation for all you dog-people out there: the next time you get a hankering for a Screwdriver or Vodka Tonic, remember all those pups out there who aren't as lucky as yours and buy yourself some Tito's Handmade Vodka. Ethical inebriation--it's the right thing to do.