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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Classes Say ‘Handmade’ Vodka Is Anything But

HACKENSACK, N.J. (CN) - Four separate class action lawsuits filed against the maker of Tito's Handmade Vodka claim the distiller's product is anything but made by human hands.

The most recent of the lawsuits targeting the vodka for its allegedly fanciful branding was filed in Bergen County, N.J. by two men who complain the vodka is "mass produced from commercially manufactured 'Neutral Grain Spirit' by modern, technologically advanced machines and equipment in a large industrial facility."

Plaintiffs Marc McBrearty and Paul Cantilina say the defendants - Fifth Generation Inc., Bert Beveridge II and Mockingbord Distillery Group - once had a legitimate claim to the "handmade" moniker, a time when the vodka was made in a 16-gallon pot still.

"However, it is now manufactured by machines in a highly mechanized process on a 26 acre operation that produced approximately 850,000 cases in 2012," the men say.

McBrearty and Cantilina also contend "the defendants' Vodka is simply not 'handmade' as the word is defined in numerous dictionary sources. The defendants' 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 modem, technologically advanced machines and stills, many of which are automated; and (3) produced and bottled in extremely large quantities."

The plaintiffs accuse the vodka's distiller and distributor of acting "improperly and deceitfully by manufacturing, distributing, marketing and selling Tito's Handmade Vodka with false 'Handmade' labels and with related misrepresentations claiming that the product was 'Handmade' when the product is in fact commercially manufactured in a large factory facility."

They also say "the defendants' Tito's Handmade Vodka was made, manufactured and/or produced in massive buildings containing ten floor-to-ceiling stills and bottling 500 cases an hour." They also write that "automated machinery is used, which is the complete opposite of the product being handmade. Likewise, the automated commercial factory process is the complete opposite of the product being 'Crafted in an Old Fashioned Pot Still,' as the Defendants represent to consumers."

According to the filing, Fifth Generation had an estimated $85 million in revenue from sales of the beverage in 2012.

Several other lawsuits have been filed against Tito's Handmade Vodka in the last two months alleging similar claims, including cases in California, Florida and Illinois. The class action in California is seeking nationwide status.

Fifth Generation owner Tito Beveridge says he will vigorously contest the lawsuits and told Shaken News Daily that "all of our labels have gone through the approval process of the Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)." He also stated that "after sending a field agent to Austin to review our processes, the TTB has approved our use of 'Handmade' on our label. We think our pot still batch distillation process is one of the key things that differentiates us from a great majority of other vodkas. We disagree with these claims and will defend ourselves against this misguided attack."

McBrearty and Cantilina seek damages and restitution of the defendants "ill-gotten gains" for themselves and a proposed class of other new Jersey residents allegedly taken in by the defendants' marketing on claims the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act while engaging in unjust enrichment and intentional misrepresentation.

They are represented by Barry Gainey with Gainey & McKenna of Paramus, N.J.

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