Tequila 512 Reposado 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.”

Scott Willis Tequila 512

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.”

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

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There are dozens of bars throughout Austin that serve excellent drinks, flawlessly prepared with craft spirits and locally sourced ingredients. The rise of cocktails in Austin is riding the same wave of popularity as our foodie craze, with correspondingly high expectations for quality ingredients and impeccable service.

Austin’s bartenders take their jobs seriously, pouring over books, studying with spirits ambassadors, bringing culinary techniques to the bar and competing — and winning — in national competitions.

Nine of the city’s finest bartenders have been nominated for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards for Bartender of the Year. Meet them below.

Chris Bostick, Half Step

Chris Bostick
After stints at swanky cocktail dens in New York, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles (where he won the Best Cocktail Bar in America award at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail), Bostick returned to Austin dripping with drink cred to start Half Step on Rainey Street. At Half Step, he oversees a serious cocktail program complete with custom cut ice.

“Opening Half Step is by far the biggest accomplishment in my career to date,” says Bostick. “It was such an undertaking that involved an incredible amount of work. The success of Half Step has made all of the hard work extremely gratifying.”

Must try: The Ginger Paloma, on tap at Half Step, featuring Tequila Ocho Plata, fresh lime and grapefruit as well as Jarritos Toronja Mexican Soda.  

Carley Dunavant, JW Marriott

Carley Dunavant
Dunavant has brought a smile to Austinites while working at several top-notch bars including Whisler’s, Drink.Well., Odd Duck and Sawyer & Co. This Memphis native has been bartending since college, and has earned prestige by winning the Bombay Sapphire Competition in Austin, competing in the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in Las Vegas, which was featured in the GQ miniseries America’s Bartender.  She recently took over the helm of the bar program at the new JW Marriott, which has Osteria Pronto, Corner Restaurant, Burger Bar and Lobby Bar.

“My biggest accomplishments are the relationships I’ve built with all the amazing bartenders and industry people in Austin and across the country,” says Dunavant. “I’ve been extremely lucky to get to work side by side some of the best and most talented people Austin has to offer. If it weren’t for all these passionate, creative, and crazy people, my life wouldn’t be the same.”

Must try: A classic margarita made with the large selection of tequila in the Corner Restaurant.

Justin Elliott, Qui

Justin Elliott Qui (2)
Elliott started at The Tavern and has been in the drinks business ever since with jobs at Brooklyn dive bars and now leading the bar program at Qui. Last year Elliott’s Tepache Collins, a traditional Mexican street drink made with barely fermented pineapple agua fresca, was named the Official Drink of Austin.

“The thing I’m most proud of, though, is my staff,” says Elliott. “We’ve created a really great culture at Qui. Really thoughtful, progressive cocktails are hard enough to put out, especially in a fast-paced environment. To be part of creating a team that makes cocktails look and taste great all the time in a super fun environment is incredibly rewarding.”

Must try: The spring cocktail menu at Qui features an Underberg-spiked Death in the Gulfstream with Genever and lime.

Bill Hankey, King Bee Lounge

Bill Hankey
Hankey earned a reputation for making serious cocktails behind the stick at The Good Knight and then as bar manager of Bar Congress. Now he is drawing crowds to King Bee on East 12th Street with killer craft cocktails and delicious pizza.

“When Colette and I first started dating, in fact on our first date, we told each other how much we wanted to open our own place,” he says. “We want to influence everything from fare all the way down to what was on the jukebox. Almost five years later, we have that place. King Bee embodies love and support, the same love and support I get from Colette every day.”

Must try: Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé

Chauncey James, Garage

Chauncy James of Garage
James has honed his impressive bartending skills at damned fine Austin bars such as East Side Show Room, Volstead and Arro. He now leads the bar at Garage, the covert spot tucked inside the American National Bank parking garage. James recently crafted The Official Drink of Austin 2015.

Must-try: The Indian Paintbrush (The 2015 Official Drink of Austin) made with vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, rosemary syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters.

Pam Pritchard, The Tigress Pub  

Pam Pritchard The Tigress
After working for 25 years as a medical technician, Pritchard made a significant career change and opened the Tigress Pub on North Loop in the spring of 2010. The cozy bar packs in cocktail lovers with its ever-rotating menu of classic and Pritchard-made drinks. The tiny bar recently expanded from 20 seats to about 40.

“I feel pretty good about being in business for five years,” says Pritchard. “I’m loving what I do and especially loving all the great people that have come into my life.”

Must try: The White Dove, made with white port, dry vermouth, elder flower, served in a tall glass with ice and fruit garnish.

Ania Robbins, Drink.Well.

Ania Roberts
Robbins has been a fixture behind the bar at Drink.Well. since 2013. She is as deft with a classic Sazerac as she is with a flaming tiki drink.

“I think the importance of a fantastic bar team is very underrated. It’s always been one of my biggest priorities. When people have the right chemistry behind the bar it translates into customers’ ultimate experience, from the drink on their table to the overall atmosphere,” she says.

Must try: The Daiquiri made with Smith & Cross over-proof Jamaican rum and lime juice. 

Jessica Sanders, Drink.Well.  

Jessica and Michael Sanders
Sanders opened the neighborhood cocktail bar and restaurant, Drink.Well. in 2012. Since then, she has made waves in the Austin cocktail scene by competing regularly in national competitions, gathering accolades, and serving as the president of the local chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild.

“When I am behind the bar and I see someone walk into Drink.Well. for the second, third or fourth time … that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating,” Sanders says. “I am proud that I’ve helped create a space where people come to be made happy and feel welcomed to return again and again.”

Must try: Martini made with 50/50 gin and vermouth with a lemon twist.

Jason Stevens, Bar Congress

Jason Stevens Bar Congress
As the director of bars and beverage for La Corsha Hospitality Group, Stevens presides over the drinks at cocktail mecca Bar Congress as well as Second Bar + Kitchen and its second location in The Domain. He also has a hand in the soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in the Seaholm development.

“I’m most proud of convincing my mom to stop making margaritas with bottled artificial mix,” Stevens says.

Must try: Barolo 12 year grappa and a Real Ale Han’s Pils chaser

The Bartender of the Year will be announced at the 2015 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 12 at Brazos Hall. 

This story was originally published on CultureMap

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