While working on this article, I was shocked to discover that Mississippi didn’t repeal prohibition until 1966. That is 59 years of bootleg and moonshine! So when Richard Patrick started up the first legal still in 104 years it caused quite a stir. His company, Cathead Vodka, is more than just a spirit; it’s a lifestyle.
Founded in 2011, Cathead is a small batch smooth vodka due to the fact that it is distilled six times with a charcoal filter. Sweet grain corn is mixed in for a fine crisp finish. And, it’s 80 proof so hold tight! A portion of the profit from every bottle goes to support local heritage foundations within every state where it is sold.
As for the name, Cathead was coined by James ‘Son’Thomas, who was an influential delta blues musician. The name is from the phrase, “That cat can play”, meaning that person was respected by his peers in the blues and folk art community.
We had a chin wag with founder, Richard Patrick and distiller Phillip Ladner to learn more about this melodic spirit.
For philanthropy the site says that you align yourself with live music etc.
Can you be more specific?
We don’t give directly to musicians, we work mostly with local music foundations (our foundation partners) in the markets we do business in. Our foundation partners have like minded views (please look at our website for foundation information)
I see you work with Southern Foodways Alliance.
SFA is a great organization and our values are very aligned in documenting the progression of Southern heritage through food, music & beverage.
Can you tell us a bit of your background and how you got involved in distilling?
My background has really been more interest driven, and then understanding a process.
Short of giving you a resume, I can say I’ve been involved in many different sides of the food & beverage industry. I started working in a kitchen when I was 16 and seriously wanted to pursue culinary school but decided I needed a background in business; from there my interests evolved more towards wine. I’ve been involved in the manufacturing, importing, and distribution of beer, wine & spirits for all of my professional career and have loved every minute of working in the business.
I started working in wineries at Spy Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand. After New Zealand I moved to Napa Valley where I worked with Lewis Cellars, Jericho Canyon, and then at Pahlmeyer. I was always interested in distilling and when an opportunity became available to learn the craft from Jordan Via, then distiller at Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, California, I gladly started showing up whenever I had free time! Jordan was offered the distiller’s job at Breckenridge Distillery and I was offered the distiller’s job with Stillwater Spirits. I met Austin and Richard at one of American Distilling Institute’s Hands on Whiskey Classes that I was co-teaching at Stillwater Sprits and stayed in contact with them after the class. I then did some consulting for them and eventually was offered the distiller’s job here at Cathead Distillery.
Finally, is there something new you guys are working on?
We are always working on something, all of our products undergo years of R&D before they come to market. I cannot share what we are working on specifically, but we do have some fun things in the works. On flavored vodkas I can tell you we will not be releasing anything new this year. We really have an appreciation for liqueurs, and during product development this is where most of our flavored vodkas get their start. We also make a gin called Bristow and chicory liqueur called Hoodoo. We have some gin laid down in barrels and may have some out for a small release later this year.
As Richard mentioned above, we currently have some of our amazing Bristow Gin in 53 gallon American Oak Char #4 “Heavy Char” barrels. We are tasting these barrels every couple of weeks to make sure we get the exact flavor profile we are looking for. I like to use larger barrels for our aging process, even though it may take a lot longer than aging in small barrels, allowing for a much softer extraction of the oak tannins and flavors when the gin hits its peak during the aging process.
All of our other R&D products are usually kept as much of a secret as possible until release, since most of them are products or flavors that have not been done before in their category.
Any chance you can provide a recipe for a great summer drink using Cathead?
I have been drinking a lot of Mississippi Mules so far this spring / summer.
1/2 oz lime juice
2.5 oz Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
4 to 6 oz ginger beer
Serve in a copper mug, or low ball glass, or really whatever you want to serve it in. You can dress this up with a mint sprig, make sure to keep the lime wedge in the cocktail. Stir all ingredients together. Recommend using cracked ice…
Photo Credit: Damien Blaylock // This photo was taken at Fondren Public // Jackson, MS