Texas-born Tito's Vodka takes off aboard United flights

Thu May 9, 2013 2:36pm EDT

(Reuters) - A small-batch vodka made in Austin, Texas, has found its way onto one of the world's biggest airlines.

Tito's Handmade Vodka, created by geologist and geophysicist Bert "Tito" Beveridge, is now the exclusive vodka supplier to United Airlines, the companies are set to announce on Friday.

They declined to discuss terms of the agreement, but industry sources say that selling alcohol to airlines is not that profitable, since drinks are often complimentary in Business or First Class.

Still, for Tito's, which is relatively small and virtually unknown outside the United States, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the deal is an opportunity to get the word out.

"I never thought it would go from being this one-man show to being on an airline. I always thought you had to be this big multinational corporation for that," said the 51-year-old Beveridge.

Tito's replaced Pernod Ricard's Absolut vodka on United flights at the start of the month. A spokesman for Pernod declined to comment.

Vodka is the top-selling spirit on airplanes, as it is in the United States. It is also quite competitive.

The world's No. 1 vodka, which is also the top-selling spirit of any kind, is Diageo Plc's Smirnoff, which rang up an estimated 26.3 million 9-liter cases last year, according to Impact Databank.

The United States alone accounted for some 65 million cases of vodka last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Absolut sold about 4.7 million cases here last year, according to Impact Databank, which also said Tito's sold about 850,000 cases.

That makes Tito's small compared with the giants, but already too big to be a "craft" distiller, which the Distilled Spirits Council defines as a maker of 40,000 cases or less.

Beveridge attributes part of his success to his pricing. A 750 ml bottle might sell for just under $20, in line with premium brands like Absolut and Stolichnaya, but well below very high-end brands like Grey Goose and Belvedere.

"I make a filet mignon but I sell it at a pot roast price," Beveridge said.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)