Arts & Culture

Purr Me Another

Brad Thomas Parsons’s book shows how working cats earn their keep at Southern distilleries and breweries

Photo: Illustration by Julia Kuo

It’s no secret Garden & Gun loves dogs. But according to our mailbag, some people think we need to wake up and smell the catnip, too. Every couple of issues, readers send letters to demand more Southern cat coverage. While we don’t see our commitment to Good Dogs wavering, we can admit when a feline strikes our fancy. The ones in the book Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World’s Most Spirited Mousers do just that.

Brad Thomas Parsons, the James Beard Award-winning author and drinks historian, digs into the deep history of cats that punch the clock—hunting mice aboard ships, prowling the rafters in barns, and greeting customers at bookshops and bodegas the world over. Here in the States, Parsons noticed a trend of working cats at vineyards, breweries, pubs, and distilleries. “While they still maintain their fiercely independent nature,” he writes, “when they’re not sleeping, hunting, or supervising the staff, the modern distillery cat spends a good chunk of the day mingling with patrons in the tasting room.”

His book shares the true tales of thirty of America’s favorite beverage-protecting felines, along with cheeky illustrations and fifteen cocktail recipes (don’t miss the Fall Fashioned from Corsair Distillery in Nashville). Check out more of the cats on Instagram @distillerycats, and see six of our favorite Southern cats from the book:

Sugar Maple at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee

When head distiller and Made in the South Award-winner Andy Nelson wanted a pet for the distillery, he went straight to the local humane society. “Rescue cats have an excellent track record of being hard-nosed enforcers who give rodents no quarter,” he says. Sugar Maple, a Maine Coon mix, has lived up to expectations, napping all day to save up energy for her after-hours night patrol.

Photo: Courtesy of @bellemeadebrbn

Sugar Maple keeps watch over the bar at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery.

Black Hawk and Chinook at Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, Georgia

These two domestic shorthairs protect and serve the 28,000-square-foot distillery. They’ve captured lizards and even alerted owners to a rattlesnake that slithered into a shipment of empty beer cans. Co-founder Kevin Ryan notes, “Black Hawk and Chinook were the first to discover the snake, but luckily, we were able to provide reinforcements before they attempted to remove the intruder on their own.”

Photo: Courtesy of @servicebrewing

Black Hawk and Chinook chill at Service Brewing.

Pizza and Copper at Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee

A few years ago, a tortoiseshell-patterned cat snuck into the Music City distillery and hunted down some snacks. The owners had talked about adopting a mouser when “Pizza” staked her claim. Now, she earns her keep but is still known to sneak a tossed slice from time to time. Pizza’s underling, Copper, is only a few months old but is making his own way at another nearby Corsair facility. “He is very affectionate when not being a complete brat,” says owner and distiller Darek Bell. “Basically, he has the standard cat operating system.”

Photo: Courtesy of @corsairdistillery

Copper, Corsair Distillery’s master of surprise.

Photo: Courtesy @corsairdistillery

Pizza, with her eyes on the pie.

Automatic at Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens, Georgia

Brewers discovered a tiny white kitten trapped in a grain bin the same day they introduced their seasonal Automatic Pale Ale, and the name “Automatic” stuck. “Auto” now acts as brand ambassador, appearing on social media to introduce new releases, greeting guests and coworkers, and catnapping in the potted plant at the brewery’s reception area.

Photo: Courtesy of @creaturecomfortsbeer

Automatic, or Auto, of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Quotes, cover, and illustrations reprinted with permission from Distillery Cats, copyright © 2017 by Brad Thomas Parsons. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Julia Kuo