Photos by Anna Goodson
When what you love to do in your spare time becomes your very own burgeoning business, you count yourself lucky. College friends Austin Evans and Richard Patrick have been riding high on a lucky streak, paved with hard work, elbow grease and lots and lots of determination.
“We both grew up around small businesses,” explains Richard. “But at the time the idea struck, what we both really loved to do is drink and enjoy live music. A late night at a blues festival in the Mississippi Delta turned into the idea to start a distillery right here at home in Mississippi. In 2010, we somehow made it happen and that has snowballed into where we are now.” Forty-four years after Mississippi repealed prohibition (the last state to do so, in fact), the Cathead brand was born. Now, it’s proudly the first and oldest distillery in the State of Mississippi. Richard and Austin pay homage to that Delta night with the Cathead brand, a name that speaks to the rich heritage and origin of blues music in Mississippi. “We wanted the brand to have value and help create a sense of place,” says Richard.
In the early days of Cathead, the pair rented a 5000 square foot space in a strip warehousing unit in Gluckstadt, where they began their vodka production, selling on the weekends and distilling their product during the week. “It accommodated our short-term growth needs,” remembers Austin. “But about two and a half years in, we started looking for a more long-term permanent model.”
That permanent place they were in search of would materialize in the form of an old 20,000 square foot warehouse building in downtown Jackson, with a former life as the Mississippi School Book Supply Company in the 1920s. “It would have been easy to build something from scratch,” says Richard. “But this building encompassed and embodied the more timeless architecture and structure we were looking for.” Both Austin and Richard, Jackson residents, were committed to making a place for Cathead in the city limits of Jackson. “We see a lot of opportunity in bringing our business to our city.”
A “comfortably rustic” aesthetic was accomplished with the help of architect Tim Taylor and builder Donnie Young of Young Construction. “Moving into the new distillery was really like creating a whole new brand and that’s how we tried to approach it,” says Austin. There are no real frills in the building, just wide-open spaces with surprising touches like drop-cloth drapes atop exposed brick walls.
The vision for Cathead Distillery consisted of becoming an event-driven facility and a place for locals and tourists alike to enjoy live music, local beer, and, of course, Cathead spirits from the source. Work on the distillery began in 2013, and the new Cathead Distillery opened to wide acclaim with much pomp and circumstance in December 2015.
“This building really offers a lot more storage, which affords us the ability to have more inventory, resulting in larger price breaks,” says Richard. “It lends us the opportunity to diversify our portfolio to include a whiskey we hope to release in the next few years.”
The Cathead brand has grown tremendously since that hazy night in the Delta, distributing all over the Southeast. And, Cathead is more than just three varieties of vodka. It includes gin, hoodoo chicory liquor, and moonshine. “What we sold in our first year of business is what we sell every month now,” says Austin. “It’s been a whirlwind, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Richard and Austin aren’t just a two-man show any more, either. In December, Cathead not only opened a new location, but doubled their sales staff throughout the region. Now, Cathead employs twenty people who take pride in a sense of location, authenticity, unique ingredients and high- quality spirits.
Plans continue to evolve for how the Cathead Distillery will fit into the local community, with tours available and events in the making. “We want to be a place where people can come and relax,” says Richard. “We are focused on making the events we have great and comfortable for people that come to visit us.”
At press time, Richard and Austin were gearing up and looking forward to Cathead Birthday Jam, on May 21 at the distillery. Here, they will toast to six years of growing their brand. “We have always been careful about trying not to grow too fast,” says Austin. “We’ve continually gotten better because we’ve learned a lot along the way. We have outsourced our production to Philip Ladner, our distiller, who brings a great skillset to improve the quality of our products. We have acquired better equipment. We have adopted better refining processes that have led to even better products.”
For now, Austin and Richard are looking forward to what’s to come from their ever-evolving, ever-growing business. “I would say the key to success is learning from the mistakes that don’t put you out of business,” says Richard. “Plus a whole lot of patience and hard work. There are so many layers to Cathead, but generally, we want to be all about authenticity to a certain region, place and time.”