Tequila 512 just pulled off something very few booze companies have ever done. The Austin brand won an impressive double gold medal and was awarded “Best in Show” at the prestigious 15th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition. That’s pretty amazing for any spirit, but even more so from a tequila company that is less than 3 years old.
Scott Willis, the founder of Tequila 512, has been juggling the tequila business with a full-time job at a tech company since he introduced his first bottles in November 2012. Willis worked on every aspect of starting Tequila 512 for seven years before it came to market: Getting through all of the regulatory hurdles and raising money to get the company started was a job of its own.
After the brand launched, Willis spent nights and weekends driving around Texas self-distributing his tequila and pouring at liquor shops and festivals. The work paid off with 180 percent growth in 2013 and 265 percent growth in 2014. But the demands of running Tequila 512 and working his full-time job were taking a toll on Willis.
"My wife said, 'We can’t live like this. You have to quit your job,'" says Willis. "We decided to sell a rental house we owned and use the money from the sale to pay my salary for the next year. I quit my job over the phone in the airport while I was getting ready to board a plane to Mexico to bottle my next batch of tequila. They were calling my name to board the plane when I was finalizing the call with my former boss."
That was in February. In April, Tequila 512 won the double gold in San Francisco. What a great way to start a new full-time role.
At the competition thousands of liquors were evaluated in blind tastings by a panel of 41 of the most highly qualified spirits judges in the world. The judges sipped various categories of spirits in numbered tasting glasses. Some got dismissed, and some moved on to the medal rounds where bronze, silver and gold were awarded.
"Winning double gold is a really big deal," says Willis. "Winning a gold medal means your spirit is above and beyond: it’s one of the best and is highly recommend by the judges. Winning a double gold means that it has been unanimously voted gold by all judges and is considered far superior to all the rest."
There was also a sweepstakes round where judges reevaluated each spirit that had been awarded the double gold medal to select the best in show. That’s when Tequila 512 won the biggest prize of the day.
"It’s almost impossible to get to the final round," says Willis. "This tiny company was named the best tequila on the planet."
Willis is hopeful that this impressive win will accelerate his success. He points to the incredible growth of Tito’s Handmade Vodka after its win of the double gold in 2001 and hopes to see similar results.
Tequila 512 has just signed a new distributor who will get the tequila on more store shelves and bar backs all over town. The company is also in the process of seeking investors to help expand production.
To top it off, the brand just launched its second style of tequila. Tequila 512 Reposado is made with the triple distilled Blanco tequila and then aged for nine months in used oak bourbon barrels. The tequila is then stored in stainless vats, filtered and blended before bottling.
The result is a bold lowlands tequila with the vibrant smell of pepper and spice along with vanilla. It packs plenty of zip with rich, powerful flavors that tequila lovers will love. It will be sold for about $34 a bottle in Austin.
The industry’s most prestigious honor, bigger distribution and more products could be the recipe for success that Tequila 512 craves. "I want to be the tequila in Austin," says Willis. "I want our town to know and love our tequila."