When I got the message that Ashlie Stevens wanted me to come into the WFPL studio to talk to her about cats, my answer was an ecstatic, “YES!” Who doesn’t love cats, especially among those of us who spend a fair amount of time on the internet?
The question was about the history of cats at bourbon distilleries – how long the tradition had been around, why they are there, et cetera.
The first thing you have to remember about bourbon is that it is an agricultural product. Historically things like beer, wine, and whiskey were produced to preserve crops at the end of the growing season for consumption over the winter, or to condense them for easier transport and sale/barter.
As with any working farm operation there would have been things that drew pests. In the case of bourbon it would be the grains in storage waiting to be fermented that would draw mice.
Enter cats. Cats have lived with humans for thousands of years and their job on the farm has always been to keep the mice at bay. Distillery cats are really just barn cats for whiskey.
These days with the modernization of the distilling business there’s not a huge need for mousers – I can’t say I’ve ever seen a mouse at any bourbon distillery I’ve toured or spent time at. Even if there were I would not be the slightest bit concerned about it after the distillation process the grains go through.
That said, these days the purpose of a distillery cat is to be a brand ambassador. The cats at various distilleries have a following of their own, popping up on social media feeds as excited visitors get to know them and see them on every return trip.
Update: Cats are crazy popular on the Internet. You might say that the Internet is obsessed with cats. As it turns out, NowSourcing did an infographic about this very phenomenon. Check out “Why Is The Internet Obsessed With Cats?“