Brad Thomas Parsons's writing on food and drink has appeared in Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Lucky Peach, and Punch. His 2011 book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas (with photographs from Ed Anderson) helped restore a classic (and crucial) cocktail ingredient to its rightful place behind the bar, earning both James Beard and IACP Cookbook awards, as well as an easily reachable spot on the bookshelves of self-respecting bartenders everywhere. His follow-up, Amaro, gives readers a comprehensive education in a venerable-if-underappreciated collection of bittersweet liqueurs through a tour of Italian bars, cafés, and distilleries - and of course, recipes. (On top of that, BTP is a former colleague of ours.)
So what does he do for an encore? A book about cats, naturally. As it turns out, it's not a such a radical detour. Distillery Cats collects "biographies" of some of the more memorable felines encountered across Brad's many travels: 30 of the best mousers working distilleries, breweries, bars, and wineries, including hand-drawn portraits and stat sheets touting each cat's "super-power" and body count. (These cats mean business.)
Here Brad presents the inspiration behind the book and a few of its furry-yet-fierce principals. One is named Fletcher Pickles.
A Note from Brad Thomas Parsons, Author of Distillery Cats
Two years ago I was at a book launch party hosted at a popular Brooklyn distillery when the guest of honor--an esteemed, award-winning cocktail historian--pulled me aside and asked, with a mix of concern and bemusement, "Is it true you're writing a book about cats?"
I'll be the first to admit that my upcoming book, Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World's Most Spirited Mousers, is a bit of a departure from my last two books. But as a lifelong "cat guy" this topic double-downed on two of my passions, and any way you break down the formula, the solution to the equation for "Cats + Booze = x" is a win-win situation. Think of it as a passionate, side project--an experimental EP to the Bitters and Amaro LPs.
There's a storied tradition of employing felines in the workforce in roles such as ship cats, barn cats, bookstore cats, pub cats, and bodega cats. And when the expensive grains on hand at distilleries and breweries are like a 24-hour Sizzler to mice and other pests, enter the distillery cat. With the craft-distilling boom, the American distillery cat has evolved from old-world pest control to modern-age social media darling (many with their own dedicated accounts with more followers than the actual distillery) and unofficial brand ambassadors. Taking a selfie with the resident distillery cat is as much a part of visiting a distillery as sampling the booze.
I "interviewed" over 30 cats for the book, and the origin stories and misadventures of Hoodie, Fletcher Pickles, General Patton, Char, Daryl Hall, Scratchy, and so many more still bring a smile to my face. And Julia Kuo's illustrations capture these spirited mousers in all their glory.
I hope you have as much fun reading the book as I did writing it. I encourage you to keep up with all the boozy cat action on Instagram.
Keep calm and purr on....
--Brad Thomas Parsons
Thomas & Sons Distillery | Portland, Oregon
“We got him off of Craigslist on a whim. Best. Decision. Ever,” says Thomas & Sons Distillery Operations Manager Ray Nagler on the origin story of their beloved distillery cat, a Maine coon named Boone. Boone is strictly a nine-to- fiver, commuting to and from the distillery with Nagler, but he’s had the travel bug since he was a kitten, when Nagler would carry him around, swaddled in a scarf, to the local farmers’ markets, parties, and bars. “He’s getting a little too enormous for the scarf. When he was a kitten, I used to take him to an irresponsible amount of dive bars, sometimes covertly.” When Boone had too much excitement for the evening, he would go limp and Nagler would drape the sleeping cat over the back of her neck, occasionally passing him around the bar for other patrons to do the same with. “Only one time did we ever get kicked out. It’s amazing what bar managers will let you get away with when you’ve got a kitty in tow.”
Nagler recommends other distilleries in the market for a cat look for one that’s friendly and “not too spookable,” though she’s quick to point out that Boone, who is yet to dispatch an unwanted pest, is pretty useless in the security department. “He’s lucky he’s gorgeous. Have you ever had a friend with no particular skill but was a pleasure to have around? Boone’s that guy. Honestly, he’s an oaf with zero ability to take care of himself and we love him for it.” But in the “people person” department, Boone would get “exceeds expectations” on his annual performance review. His extroverted personality makes him a hit with kids and a sponge for affection. “If he’s left in a room without humans, he just waits by the door.”
Corsair Distillery | Nashville , Tennessee
Devoted fans of Corsair’s popular distillery cat Pizza (see page 82) have no fear! Copper, the new cat in town, isn’t a replacement but has instead taken up residency at another Corsair facility in Nashville. Copper was found as a street cat. He didn’t play nice with the other cats at the adoption facility but was just what Corsair Distillery was looking for. His name was crowd-sourced on Facebook and seemed fitting given his beautiful, shiny coat of fur. Corsair Distillery owner and distiller Darek Bell quickly discovered his new hire’s special prowess as an expert mouser before Copper even officially started the job. After the adoption, Bell took Copper to his farmhouse for an adjustment period before punching in at the distillery, but it didn’t take the cat long to discover the malt house on the property. “Copper caught a mouse and jumped on the bed where I was working with my laptop and released it right next to me. I nearly leaped out of bed in shock.”
Copper’s main role at the distillery is pest control, but he’s a natural at tourism and hospitality. “He loves visitors and enjoys being a part of the tours, except when he gets in a pissy mood. He is very affectionate when not being a complete brat. Basically, he has the standard cat operating system.” Copper also has a knack for being an in-house morale booster for the team. “Bottling is a tough job, as it is so repetitive and monotonous. Copper loves to come out on bottle day, and I think he does it to lift people’s spirits, even though they are sweating buckets and he is just sitting there lazing about.”
Lucky Hare Brewing Company | Hector, New York
Ian Conboy, vice president and head brewer at Lucky Hare Brewing Company, cut a deal with a local architecture firm. “If I brought beer up to their drinking club and gave a little presentation about the brewery, one of the architects would exchange two barn cats for my time. It was a hell of a deal.” As a longtime fan of the sweet Philly soul sounds of Hall and Oates, Conboy naturally dubbed the two feline brothers Daryl Hall and John Oates. Sadly, John Oates is no longer with us (RIP), but his brother Daryl has lived up to his potential and honors John Oates’s memory each and every day on the job. “Hopefully this guy stays around for a long time because he has a great demeanor and is a terror to all mice in the brewery.” For now, Daryl is a strictly catch-and- release mouser, but he did once claim an unfortunate barn swallow for his trophy case.
Daryl resides in the brewery most of the week. “He pretty much runs around like a lunatic searching for bugs and mice. Daryl then naps for most of the day behind the buckets where I keep all of my sanitary fittings.” But on weekends, it’s all about mixing and mingling with visitors in the busy taproom. His primary role may be pest patrol, but he’s pretty good at keeping patrons around to order another beer.
“We were hoping to have a cat who would hunt for parts of the day but also be chill in the brewery. Daryl has exceeded those expectations and has become a super-friendly bar cat too. Plus, the ladies fall in love with him at first sight.”
Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery | Indianapolis , Indiana
While there’s a lot of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to the legalities of having a distillery cat on premises, Fletcher Pickles is free and clear as he’s registered as an Emotional Service Animal for Travis Barnes, one of the distillery’s owners who is a combat-disabled veteran. Barnes was doing research on distillery traditions, and the historic role of cats and distilleries was one of his favorite topics. After the research, he and co-owner Brian Willsey picked up an eight-week-old kitten. Willsey admits, “We paid a lot of money for Fletcher, much to the chagrin of our investors. However, because he is used as a piece of equipment to keep the grains safe from mice, Fletcher is a tax write-off. He paid for himself pretty quickly, based on the number of calls we get a week asking if he is on duty before a party comes to the distillery.”
Named after Indianapolis’s historic Fletcher Place neighborhood, home of the distillery, Fletcher lives at the distillery with occasional sleep-away-camp visits to Willsey’s home. Early on, he hunted down fifteen mice, but after the first few months, the mice knew they had met their match and left for good. One of his most famous incidents came about after “he got all messed up on some really powerful Colombian-grade catnip” and got twisted in a nest of flypaper strips. Panicked, he ran to his litter box and rolled around, covering himself with kitty litter. For the next month, following a trip to the vet, who had to cut off the clumps of kitty-litter-covered hair, Fletcher resembled a cat who had “escaped a near-death experience with a wood chipper.”
He quickly developed a devoted fan base and stepped into his role as the Hotel Tango mascot, with nearly as many Instagram followers as the actual distillery. “I suspect he sees himself as the Brad Pitt of cats. Women love him, knowing that he will eventually hurt them. However, they can’t help themselves because he is so goddamn handsome.”
Industry City Distillery | Brooklyn, New York
Arcane Distilling | Brooklyn, New York
Scratchy does double-duty as distillery cat at two businesses that share the same space: Industry City Distillery and Arcane Distilling. As David Kyrejko, who works at both venues (engineer at ICD, distiller at Arcane) and spends a lot of time with “the Scratch” will tell you, “two distilleries sharing 12,000 square feet makes for lots of hiding spots.”
Scratchy began her life as the “esteemed mouser” at the Spotted Pig in the West Village. Chef April Bloomfield dubbed her Scratchins Black (a nod to the British slang for table scraps), but everyone knows her as Scratchy. When Scratchy’s previous owner, restaurateur Ken Friedman, could no longer keep the cat and put it out there that she needed a home, Kyrejko was sold. “I wanted a social cat that wasn’t too ‘mushy.’ Scratch has some lap-cat tendencies but also has the feisty hunter streak. Given her vast experience in food service, I thought she’d fit in just fine.”
As the two distilleries share a floor in the same building, Scratchy tends to wear a lot of different hats in the operation, from head distiller to chief marketing officer to shop foreman to lab cat. “She’s basically the entire marketing department for Industry City Distillery and is my late-night lab helper over at Arcane.” On weekends, she’s devoted to full-time customer relations, when, as the de facto face of Industry City Distillery, her primary job is to hang around the tasting room to greet visitors. “Scratchy is unusually social. She comes when called and actually loves crowds. She spends most of her time lounging on one of the tasting room tables and will also just sort of hang with patrons. They love it. It’s amazing what having a cat can do when someone is waiting in line for a cocktail.”
Books by Brad Thomas Parsons
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