The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2016

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32  /  the tasting panel  /  june 2016 A LONE STAR LIFE Scott Willis, founder of Tequila 512, at Clive Bar in Austin, TX. Unscripted but Positive SCOTT WILLIS ON BUILDING TEQUILA 512 by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle I was passionate about music. That's what brought me to Austin. But then I realized it wasn't working out and it wasn't going to be a fit for me, so I started searching for something else." That's Scott Willis, explaining how his dream was like most other folks who come to Austin— musical in nature. Yet, secondary career options typically prove more fruitful in the Live Music Capital of the World, so it's usually just a matter of where inspiration comes from. For Willis, it came from a magazine article on Bert "Tito" Beveridge, who started Tito's Handmade Vodka in Austin and built it into a wildly successful national brand. That article sparked something in Willis, although he doesn't recall exactly where he read it—hell, it could have been in The Tasting Panel—the point is, "Tito kind of made it sound like anyone can do this if they just put the time in and work hard," he says. So, Willis worked hard, researched the alcohol industry and thought, I can do that. When it came time to really commit to making a product, his first two choices—Jack Daniel's and Lone Star Beer—were already spoken for, so he decided to make it tougher on himself by choosing tequila. "Well, I did drink a lot of tequila in college," Willis says. "That was basically my thinking at that point." Yet, it wasn't really an un- educated decision. Even if you can't make tequila in Texas, it's the country's second-largest tequila market and close enough to Jalisco, Mexico, for Willis to begin refining his plans. He began heading there about nine years ago, and that's when, it's fair to say, he began developing a true passion for tequila. He also faced the realities of production, marketing and sales and navigat- ing Texas' three-tier distribution system to get his Tequila 512 Blanco to stores in 2012. "What I didn't know at the beginning turned out to be pretty daunting. I had to do it all myself," Willis says. "I had a lot of help, of course, but I was so naïve. Nine out of ten times, things didn't go the way we thought they would. Every step of the way has been unscripted but still positive." After getting it up and running, he had to sustain the brand in a crowded field, but in 2015, Tequila 512 won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; the company also released a reposado version. Sales are climbing, along with the funding efforts. In April, Willis announced that more than $1 million of investment capital had been raised to help Tequila 512 take the next steps. "It allows us to hire sales reps and start a marketing budget, which we've never had before," Willis says. "We are also working on re-branding, with a refreshed label and an updated web presence." Willis admits he's living his dream—though maybe not his first dream, but it's still a dream. And to all the would-be entre- preneurs reading this article, he wants you to know one thing: "It's a lot of work! It can be a whole lot of fun, but it's work. So you better have the passion or find it quickly."

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