Ten years ago, college buddies Richard Patrick and Austin Evans went into the distilled spirits business, bringing Mississippi’s first legal liquor-making operation, Cathead Distillery, to the Jackson area.
A decade later, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Cathead has switched gears, at least temporarily. Instead of vodka, Cathead is making hand sanitizer by the ton. On Tuesday, Cathead, in partnership with the City of Jackson, made access to four 55-gallon drums of the sanitizer available, at no charge. People, needing the sanitizer to help fight the virus, were allowed to fill 12-ounce containers of the stuff at four different Jackson locations.
Said Patrick, “The main commodity in the formula for making the hand sanitizer is extremely high-proof alcohol. We obviously have plenty of that. We wanted to do something. It’s our way of giving back to our community, our way of helping flatten the curve.”
The more than 200 gallons of free sanitizer didn’t last long. At the Fondren Corner Market location, a line formed at 9 a.m. Tuesday and went nearly all the way around the building, Angel Knopp, the store’s head bookkeeper said. The supply lasted two hours.
Patrick believes approximately 2,300 citizens were supplied with the free sanitizer. He said Wednesday morning Cathead plans to make more more free sanitizer available in the near future.
The switch from making spirits, primarily vodka, to hand sanitizer has been a whirlwind turn-around at Cathead. Patrick and Evans had heard of North Carolina distilleries making hand sanitizer weeks ago and began to look into it.
They received a go-ahead from the federal government on March 18, and began making the sanitizer on March 23. They stopped bottling Cathead liquors on March 23 and switched entirely to sanitizer production. As of Tuesday, they had produced more than 42 tons of it.
Most of that supply, Patrick said, is sold directly to first responders such as MEMA, Entergy, MDOT and nursing homes.
While health officials at all levels have consistently said that washing one’s hands thoroughly with soap and water works as well as hand sanitizer, that has not lessened the demand for the latter.
Much of Cathead’s normal business, Patrick said, is direct sale of small batch liquors to independent bars and restaurants around the Deep South. With most of those businesses closed due to the pandemic, demand was far down. The switch to making and distributing hand sanitizer just made sense, Patrick said.
“The city and Mayor (Chokwe Antar) Lumumba have been awesome to work with,” Patrick said.
Conversely, Lumumba has praised Cathead for stepping up and providing a badly needed commodity.
Patrick said 190 proof neutral grain alcohol provides 80 percent of what goes into the hand sanitizer formula. The alcohol is mixed with smaller amounts of glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and purified water.
No, Patrick said, no one should drink the high proof sanitizer. That would be dangerous.
Besides, plenty of Cathead’s other products are available.