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September 21, 2011

Bert “Tito” Beveridge
By David Ransom

Ask for a vodka in Austin Texas, and invariably you’ll be asked the question, “you want OUR vodka or one from somewhere else?” That question says a lot about Texas, a proud and independent state, and if John McCain hasn’t ruined the term for the rest of us, the place where the word maverick was coined. One of the state’s true mavericks is a laid-back Texas native named Bert “Tito” Beveridge, a former geologist in the oil industry who ditched it all to follow his dream; and that vodka, “our” vodka as they say in Austin, is Tito’s.

Growing up in San Antonio, having a vodka bottle with his name on it was probably the last thing on Tito’s mind. While his interests certainly leaned towards the scientific, distilling is, after all, a science as well as an art, Tito’s original goal in life was to become a doctor. And it was with that in mind that Tito excelled in all things science related in school, eventually enrolling as a pre-med student at Vanderbilt University. However, like so many students, his focus changed as he went through college, and he ended up realizing that his true talent lay in the science of the earth, not the body. So tissue-covered slides and dissecting fetal pigs gave way to seismology and geology, and upon graduation, and armed with his degree, he returned to Texas, Houston to be exact, and entered the oil industry as a seismic data processor for a major oil company.

That time, the 1980’s, was a boom-time for the oil industry, with Texas-based companies expanding into countries all over the world. Tito did well also, eventually getting coveted contracts to work throughout the global oil fields and spending large blocks of time in countries like Venezuela and Columbia doing those things that energy geophysicists do, like sub-surface mapping and dynamite-blasting oil reserves.

However, he also had that classic Texas streak of independence running through his veins, and after a few years on the road, he tired of it and returned to his home state, settling in a town called Alvin; a place he calls “a hotbed of KKK activity” where he was actually invited to Klan meetings (which he politely declined).

It was in Alvin that he hung out his own shingle, becoming a wildcatter (an independent oilman, for those of you who haven’t seen the classic James Dean/Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor movie, Giant) and starting his own drilling company. While drilling was a good way to make a living, he didn’t love it, and soon was back on the road again, eventually ending up in Austin working on environmental projects and finally, once he’d had enough of the Oil business for good, as a mortgage broker.

But going from blowing up mountains to moving mountains of paperwork, also seemed unappealing after awhile, and by the early 1990’s, Tito, who by that time had started infusing bottles of store-bought vodka and giving it to friends in his spare time, was at a crossroads, wondering what made him happy, and what to do with his life that would have meaning. So, after a quick trip to the backside of Maui, where he spent four days camping at the Seven Sacred Pools, reflecting on, to quote the great author Douglas Adams, “Life, The Universe, and Everything” (RIP Douglas, I had to do it…), Tito returned to Austin, and, after attending a keg party where someone recognized him as “that vodka guy” while he was filling his cup at the tap, returned home that evening thinking that maybe he should look into the spirits industry.

As fate would have it, late that night on television, he saw a program featuring some Tony Roberts type guy, who said the following words, “If you want to find your dream job, find your passion. Then sit down with a pen and paper, draw a line down the middle of the page, and on the left make a list everything you love to do, then on the right, write down what you are good at doing. Once you’ve done that, find what you’re best suited for, and make it happen.” Well, Tito grabbed a pen and paper and did just that…why not? He’d just come home from a keg party, and it was the middle of the night? No harm, right? Continue Reading…



September 17, 2010

A look at a much maligned (or at least misunderstood and under appreciated) spirit
By Angus Winchester

***Editor’s Note – With National Vodka Day coming up on October 4th, and recent debates on the topic held in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail and San Francisco (as sponsored by the USBG’s Northern California Chapter), we felt it was time to reinvigorate the debate.

Let it be known that we side with Mr. Winchester, and don’t hate the entire category. We are somewhat disappointed with how the spirit has been taken for granted and mixed without great regard. We challenge you to share in the dialogue, give into your inner culinary yearnings, and boldly mix with vodka once again to explore and exploit the unique textures and flavors present in each style.***

And now, a word from Angus Winchester (as presented in New Orleans)….

(I feel a tad like Tony Hayward in front of the Senate Committee as being on the I Love Vodka side at Tales means a cold reception is surely guaranteed, so in this vein I would like to start with a prepared statement)

Thanks to Claire Smith for the chance to participate in a good “healthy” debate… I love a good argument and figured here that I should be on the underdog side… I am here to defend a product I feel is much maligned, has become a target for the Cocktail Taliban and yet has been co-opted as a poster child for much that I feel is wrong in our industry.

Now Love and Hate are very strong words… many feel there is a very thin line between the two but if I had to choose between them I will always be a Lover not a Hater, but that’s not the basis of my love for Vodka.

I love good Gin. I love good Scotch. I love good Tequila, Mezcal, Green Chartreuse (always good), Bourbon, Rye, Cognac, Armagnac, etc., etc.; but only the good stuff. The well made stuff. The stuff that is not just a pretty bottle on the shelf that makes your legs unsteady and members of the opposite sex look more attractive, but is someone’s life’s work and pride and joy.

“Read, learn, mark and inwardly digest” was something my History Master used to tell us at school about a topic… and I have done this in my quest to know as much as I can about drinks, drinkers and those that serve them. I feel I know what the good stuff is and I know there is good vodka. And there is bad vodka. And bad gin, scotch, tequila etc.

It is obvious it takes skill to make great vodka and I am a fan of anything that it takes great skill and expertise Continue Reading…