Vodka maker is now one of the richest people in America

by: Arianna Auber, Austin360.com Updated:

Texas has a new billionaire, and he’s made his fortune through peddling booze.

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The appropriately named Bert “Tito” Beveridge, the founder and sole owner of Austin-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka, is now part of the exclusive Forbes 400, the list of the richest people in America. His company is worth an estimated $2.5 billion.

Tito’s Vodka sold an estimated 45 million bottles last year, a number that will likely go up to 58 million this year, according to Forbes, which recently profiled Beveridge as part of the release of the latest Forbes 400. 

Now 55, the entrepreneur originally got his start in the oil-and-gas industry but found a more lucrative calling starting up his own distillery — Texas’ very first. Prior to 1997, when Tito’s Vodka was bootstrapped together, the state didn’t have any distilleries; there supposedly wasn’t a law that permitted them. Beveridge dug through the code book and proved regulators wrong.

As a result, Texas (and Tito’s home of Austin in particular) has a booming spirits industry that goes far beyond vodka and into rum, whiskey and even Texas’ first amaro.

But Beveridge’s success has always been with the odorless, colorless alcohol, and his once-fledgling company turned 20 this year still producing the stuff and only that.

As with any business, there have been bumps in the road.

In 2014, a pair of lawsuits were leveled against Tito’s Handmade Vodka, claiming that the bottles were “deceptively labeled,” specifically through the use of the word “handmade” in the brand’s name. Both lawsuits were dismissed last year.

The suits were filed in U.S. District Court a year after a not-so-nice 2013 Forbes profile of Beveridge, which explored “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.” 

Whatever the case, Beveridge is using a portion of the Tito’s fortune for good: Tito’s founded the charitable side project of Vodka for Dog People a few years ago, making rescue dogs one of the core missions of the company when it’s not producing vodka. (Beveridge is a self-professed dog lover whose half-Labrador, half-German shepherd mix was constantly at his side during the early days of the distillery.)

And earlier this year, Tito’s took the philanthropy a step further and now donates all proceeds from its online store to designated nonprofits. You can choose which one you want your money to go toward on the site.

Beveridge made the Forbes 40 list despite an ever-steeper cost of admission to this most exclusive club: “The minimum net worth to make The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans is now a record $2 billion, up from $1.7 billion a year ago,” according to the publication.

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