Austin, Texas-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka has been hit with a lawsuit alleging its signature product isn’t actually made by hand.
The suit, filed this month in the Superior Court of California’s San Diego County division on behalf of consumer Gary Hofmann, accuses Fifth Generation Inc., the maker of Tito’s, of false advertising, among other claims.
Lawyers are seeking class-action status, which would allow other Tito’s customers to join in the lawsuit, potentially enabling them to get full or partial refunds if a court rules in their favor.
A court date has not been set.
“We disagree with the claims made against us and plan to defend ourselves against this misguided attack,” Tito’s founder, Tito Beveridge, said in a written statement provided to the Austin American-Statesman on Friday.
In court documents, Hofmann’s attorneys point to a dictionary definition of the word “handmade,” using it, in large part, as a basis for claims made in the suit. That definition states that handmade items are “made by hand, not by machine, and typically, therefore of superior quality.”
“Through a fraudulent, unlawful, deceptive and unfair course of conduct, Tito’s … manufactured, marketed and/or sold their Tito’s Handmade Vodka to the California general public with the false representation that the vodka was ‘handmade’ when, in actuality, the vodka is made via a highly mechanized process that is devoid of human hands,” the suit alleges.
“There is simply nothing ‘handmade’ about the vodka, under any definition of the term because the vodka is: (1) made from commercially manufactured ‘neutral grain spirit’ that is trucked and pumped into Tito’s industrial facility; (2) distilled in a large industrial complex with modern, technologically advanced stills; and (3) produced and bottled in extremely large quantities (i.e., it is ‘mass produced’).”
Many details about the company’s manufacturing process cited in the suit were taken from a July 15, 2013 Forbes magazine article headlined, “The Troubling Success Of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.”
“Sometimes reality bites,” the article by writer Meghan Casserly reads, in part. “That’s proving to be a challenge for Fifth Generation, maker of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. More precisely: how to maintain the fiction of being a small-batch brand that’s actually expanding rapidly in the $5.5-billion-a-year U.S. market for the colorless liquor. Tito’s has exploded from a 16-gallon pot still in 1997 to a 26-acre operation that produced 850,000 cases last year, up 46 percent from 2011, pulling in an estimated $85 million in revenue.”
Beveridge, the company’s personable founder, has guided the brand’s growth over the years, working to get his award-winning Tito’s Handmade Vodka on liquor-store shelves and on the menus at well-known bars and restaurants across the country. Last year, United Airlines selected Tito’s as the exclusive vodka brand used on its flights worldwide.
Labeling the company uses has been reviewed by federal officials who signed off on the use of the word “handmade,” Beveridge said.
“Here at Tito’s Handmade Vodka, we are proud of our process that focuses on the quality of the product and involvement of human beings,” he said. “We distill at the same distillery in Austin, Texas, where I, Tito, started the business in 1995, distilling in batches in pot stills that are customized and hand-built on-site to our proprietary specifications. We hand-connect the hoses and pumps as we taste and qualify the next steps with the distillate. We taste our product to ensure head and tail cuts, all of which are done at our distillery in Austin, Texas, are made to our exacting standards to deliver the highest quality. The artistry involved in knowing when it’s time to make those cuts is something that cannot be duplicated by even the most sophisticated machines. Our proprietary process is designed to bring the very best quality vodka to our friends and fans for a reasonable price.”