Tito’s Handmade Vodka of Austin, Texas, is an American success story. An entrepreneur who started with a 16-gallon pot still in 1997 built his brand to 850,000 cases by 2013 with estimated revenue of $85 million.
The man behind Tito’s is Bert Butler Beveridge II, whose nickname is “Bertito” or “little Bert”. His name really is Beveridge, which is purely a fun coincidence. With degrees in geology and geophysics from the University of Texas, he worked in the oil industry as a well-site geologist, a subsurface mapper and a seismic data processor. He also spent three years evaluating Superfund sites. Then he went into the mortgage business. That didn’t go so well after a while, so he looked for something to do that really interested him. Turns out it was vodka.
In 1997 he asked the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to grant him a distillery license. They demurred saying they had never issued a license to distill in Texas and therefore couldn’t do it. Little Bert studied the thick codebook and proved they could. His micro distillery was the first ever licensed in Texas and the first in the U.S. since Prohibition. Craft distilling is now a major trend.
In 2001 he was invited to submit samples to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. He won a double gold medal, meaning the judges were unanimous. His 95 points beat Ketel One (Holland 89 pts), Grey Goose (France 84 pts), Belvedere (Poland 84 pts) and Absolut (Sweden 84 pts).
Tito’s Handmade took off. But fame has its price. In 2013 Forbes magazine wrote an article entitled “The Troubling Success of Tito’s Handmade Vodka”. It pointed out that the 16-gallon pot still has grown to a 26-acre operation with 10 huge floor to ceiling stills and a bottling line that does 500 cases an hour alluding that it was hard to justify the handmade label.
Fast forward to September 15, 2014. In San Diego County Court, Gary Hoffman filed a class action suit claiming that Tito was defrauding California drinkers by labeling the vodka as handmade. A copycat lawsuit was filed in Florida this month, October, followed by another one from Illinois. Hoffman amended his suit to a nationwide class action suit. No need to share the spoils with the “me too” filers in other states.
“Handmade” implies that a product is better than a mass-produced one. It also can mean consumers are willing pay more. Judging by the online comments we’ve read, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is beloved by its fans who really don’t care about a legal wrangle. It is priced competitively with other premium brands and in some cases costs about half. So no one is being extorted on price. No doubt this lawsuit will drag on, make lawyers rich, and eventually, Tito’s Vodka will no longer be “Handmade.”