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Cathead Distillery: Mississippi's First and Oldest Legal Distillery

By Brandi Perry

Mississippi was one of the first states to pass some form of prohibition legislation, nearly 10 years before the 18th amendment made it the law of the land. The Magnolia State was also the first state to ratify the amendment and the last to repeal prohibition in 1966. Although Mississippi has had a long, tumultuous relationship with alcohol through history, there's no denying that it is a popular culture symbol, found in the pages of many Mississippi authors and in the lyrics that bounce off blues club walls all over the state.

William Faulkner, for example, is known for his love of whiskey and his distaste for Prohibition. In his book “Sanctuary,” a bootlegger was a critical character that assisted with the development of the book. It is no secret that many of the famous blues songs written in Mississippi have featured alcohol, including “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” by John Lee Hooker, and “Sittin’ Here Drinkin’” by Muddy Waters.

So, when Richard Patrick and Austin Evans decided Mississippi needed its own distillery in 2010, it made sense to give a nod to the Mississippi blues scene, by calling it Cathead Distillery. Musicians often call their fellow musicians “Cat” as a compliment. James "Son" Thomas started sculpting catheads out of river clay in the 1940s as a way to help support his musical career. The owners are huge fans of the blues heritage and history as well as the arts so by using a rendition of the cathead as the logo on all their bottles, they are keeping the history and memory alive, one sip at a time.

Patrick and Evans were college buddies who dove into the liquor industry right out of college. Evans' focus was management and hospitality while Patrick focused on import and distribution. While at a Blues Festival in the Mississippi, the inspired pair knew it was time to launch their dream as being business partners, and Cathead Distillery was born. Even though the ideas were flowing and the eagerness was building within the business partners, it took a bit of time to work through the red tape with the state.

"It took a good while working with the state, there wasn't really language in the regulations to allow the distillery. Nothing said we couldn't, but we had no text to base any of it on," Patrick explained. "It was literally one step at a time. We'd come back to them after each step and find out what was required next." Even though rewriting liquor laws in the state took time and a great deal of effort on both sides, eventually Patrick and Evans had the ball rolling toward success.

Not long after, Cathead started producing their vodka and became the only distillery to put honeysuckle and pecan vodka on the market. There are not many distilleries that can tell you that they source the sweet blossoms of honeysuckles and the best pecans in the south to produce their popular vodka, but that is exactly what happens at Cathead.

The honeysuckle vodka is made by hand in small batches using all-natural ingredients. One sip of this soft, floral vodka will take you back to summers as a child, where times were simple and the smell of honeysuckles meant freedom. The pecan vodka uses fresh Mississippi pecans and Louisiana cane sugar to reach every possible flavor a roasted pecan can yield. There is also a non-flavored Cathead Vodka that is made in batches of 500 gallons or less at a time.

Vodka is not the only thing that Cathead has to offer. Old Soul Bourbon Whiskey is distilled by Phillip Ladner and is aged for different amounts of time. As the Cathead Distillery website says, "Old Soul is the perfect metaphor for our bourbon. One that is thoughtfully crafted with a nod to both tradition & the future."

Bristow Gin is also a product of the distillery. They use their vodka as a base before adding ten botanicals to the mix. This juniper and citrus-based gin soaks in the botanicals for two weeks before it is aged in stainless steel for three more weeks. Additionally, HooDoo is a chicory liqueur that pays homage to the black magic traditions that were brought to the United States by way of Africa and the Caribbean region. The spiritual practices of HooDoo run deep in the southern culture just as the dried fruits and earthy spices do in this liqueur.

Most days at Cathead Distillery are extremely busy, welcoming guests from all over the country. In addition to tours and tastings, the distillery also offers multiple events throughout the year such as crawfish boils and ping pong tournaments. Unfortunately, while the country is still in the throes of a worldwide pandemic, those events, tours and tastings have had to be on hold for the foreseeable future. However, by visiting their website, you can collect all their newest merchandise and sign up for their newsletter, which will update you on events when they start back.