There’s a buzz about the place.
Which is only appropriate for Cathead Distillery, maker of Cathead Vodka (original, pecan and honeysuckle), Bristow Gin, Old Soul Bourbon Whiskey and Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur.
One recent weekend, credit the huge Cathead Jam — a two-day doozy of a concert/birthday party that pulled in an estimated 3,000-plus folks each day and even had the bands exclaiming “Jackson is lit!”
Back in March, the irreverent Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade’s warm-up [party] — Hal’s Marching Malfunction & Second Line Stomp — was the hot draw. A few crawfish boils spiced up the rest of spring, and a cornhole tournament for charity tossed in some summer fun.
This particular Thursday, it’s just the forklift that’s zipping around and the cheeky chandeliers that put a glow at the entrance. A couple of visitors catch a happy hour or two at the beer bar, as music thumps through the space inside and a light summer rain nudges trampled grass back to a pretty green out front.
10 Years Strong
The distillery is now in its 10th year of business. Its annual indoor/outdoor Cathead Jam has about doubled in size annually since its start four years ago. This year, about a quarter of the pre-sales came from out of state.
“It’s fun to give people an opportunity to come visit Jackson,” Cathead co-founder Austin Evans says.
Making Their Place Downtown
It’s been three and a half years since Cathead moved onto the corner of South Farish and Court streets, in a space that long ago housed Mississippi School Supply Company. In that time, the state’s oldest distillery has made good on its goal to tap into the downtown community.
“We needed the space by necessity, more so than anything,” co-founder Richard Patrick says. “But. settling into the community has always been at the forefront of why we located downtown.”
That aim meant boosted involvement with the city as a whole, Evans adds, with the ability to offer events and experiences onsite. The journey has included efforts to get laws passed allowing tours and tastings, and, more recently, a package store for on-site sales.
“If you’re going to be a business locally, you want to engage locally. That’s just good stewardship of your business,” Patrick says. Evans, son of Lemuria Books owners John Evans, saw the community that grew up around the bookseller and wanted a similar feel with Cathead. Proximity to the Jackson Convention Complex and the arts and culture hub of the Mississippi Museum of Art, Thalia Mara Hall and Arts Center of Mississippi is prime for drop-ins during the distillery’s public hours Thursdays through Saturdays.
Cathead Distillery’s industrial-chic airy space with distinctive metal trusses, repurposed tin and art by William Goodman — made it a natural for private event rental early on, but manufacturing demands moved the distillery more toward its own event production. Food trucks can round out the refreshment offerings on any given weekend.
The Making of the Cathead Brands
Now, the regional release of their Old Soul Bourbon and its bottles and barrels are eating up a good chunk of indoor square footage. They once thought this space was too big, with enough “runway,” Patrick says, to last them 10 years. The space seems to be shrinking now, he says with an easy laugh. “The growth has been fantastic.”
Cathead is still best known for its signature Cathead Vodka, its alluring title conjuring thoughts of blues music, biscuits and Southern folk art. “We’re in the middle of honeysuckle season right now. It’s perfect when it’s hot outside,” Evans says of the honeysuckle flavored Cathead Vodka that many enjoy with soda water and lemon or with lemonade. “Half and half lemonade and Cathead Honeysuckle — it’s delicious.”
Expansion beyond that continues. A quick duck into the barrel room is rewarded with a nose tickle of the angel’s share — distilled spirits lost to evaporation. The bourbon swells into the barrel in warmer environments, extracting more flavor compounds from the oak, Patrick says.
In the distillery’s main room, they pass the still, where condensed spirits flow from the faucet into a big vat. Evans passes a finger through the stream of distillate for a quick taste.
“It’s really good,” he tells Gabe Sandoval, one of the distillers, with an approving nod.
Still, the best thing about the downtown distillery? The “awesome people” they work with, Patrick says. “That’s what Old Soul is named after, too. It’s the personality, the culture of the people that work at Cathead.”
“The culture that surrounds us — it’s fun to be a part of,” Evans says.
Plan Your Visit!
Cathead Distillery is open to the public 3-7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 1-7 p.m. Saturdays, for tours, tastings and, at the bar, beer and sodas. Visit them at 422 South Farish Street in downtown Jackson and learn more about upcoming events in the space at catheaddistillery.com.