Distillery Cats of the Hudson Valley
Our Q&A with author Brad Thomas Parsons on his latest book and the craft beverage industry's favorite felines.
Cooper of Albany Distilling Company
In his latest book, author Brad Thomas Parsons profiles the unsung heroes of the craft beverage industry: cats. The 112-page collection gives readers a peak into the lives of the best in the mousing business, several of whom reside in the Hudson Valley. Among them are cats from Albany Distilling Company, Newburgh Brewing Company, Olde York Farm Distillery & Cooperage, Orange County Distillery, and Rushing Duck Brewing Company. With so many locals featured in the book, we had to learn more about Brad’s purrfect project (no more cat puns, we promise).
How did you first learn about these “employed” cats?
I’ve always been a cat guy. My cat, Louis, is walking around my ankles and meowing right now. I had come across this story about ship cats — cats that had historically worked on ships — from the Mayflower to cargo ships to military vessels, and I was just really fascinated by the photos of cats in sailor suits and getting pinned medals by Churchill, the superstitious stories about it, as well as bittersweet things about cats going down with the ship, and that led me down a path of this tradition of working cats.
So how did Distillery Cats originate?
I had grown up seeing barn cats, bookstore cats, and — now that I live in the city — bodega cats, which have taken on their own subculture of their own. Seeing that there were cats at distilleries and breweries and vineyards was something that really appealed to me. It crossed in the Venn diagram of my two passions: spirits and cats.
I wrote a story about this in 2013 for a site called Punch. I juxtaposed the historical, European distillery cat, who was a scrappy hardworking animal. Some of them are famous like Towser the Mouser, who has a statue erected in her honor [in Scotland for a whopping 28, 899 mouse-kills, a Guinness World Record]. Then in the states with the craft beverage boom, more cats were appearing, but they were taking on more of a social media ambassador role. Some of them are killing mice and keeping birds at bay, but they’re also a big part of the tour. They’re friendly, they’re cute, they’re fun to hang out with, and they’re a familiar face. People were coming to see the cats specifically. Instagram had a lot to do with that.
So this story came out in 2013, got a lot of buzz, and then almost a year later, National Public Radio was doing a piece on Scottish distilleries and the tradition of distillery cats. Ari Shapiro had read the story and was a big fan, and so I was on as their “cat expert,” which was a new title for me. After that was when I approached my publisher and said, you know, this could be a fun project.
Once I sold the book, I started an Instagram called Distillery Cats as a way to chronicle and keep track of the cats, and that’s grown to have almost 13,000 followers now. Many of the cats that on that page are in the book as well.
What made you profile the cats as opposed to writing a research-driven book?
I saw this more as a documentary where I’m putting the microphone in front of the cats and sitting down and talking with them. In the intro, I talk a little bit about the history of working cats, but it was never going to be that kind of book. This was going to be a fun, gifty, cute book, but I took it very seriously when writing it.
Unlike Amaro, where it took three years to write, and I traveled through Italy and interviewed dozens of bartenders, I just had interviews via emails, phone calls, or met the owner in person to really get the story.
I always wanted it to be a fun project for me and for readers, and I think the format of the book lends itself to that. Not to say I wouldn’t read a deep academic chapter or a long form story on the history of working cats, but I don’t know if that would hold up for a full book. You can read this in about 40 minutes or dip in when you want and flip around.
Who was your favorite cat to profile?
There’s a couple I’m partial to: Hoodie, from Newburgh [Brewing Company], is one of the more popular ones on the Instagram. People just love her. Then there’s a cat named Fletcher Pickles, which the name alone is enough to win you over. He’s in Indianapolis, Indiana, and he just has so much character.
My favorites are the cats whose personalities really shine through on the page. Like there’s a cat named Pizza in Nashville who ate a little too much food, put on weight, and fell through a ceiling tile and landed on a customer’s lap while they were drinking.
If I had to pick a favorite — don’t tell the other cats — but Hoodie and Fletcher Pickles are fan favorites, and I’m definitely in their camp as well.
I’ve met Hoodie twice now, and she was the one I was most excited to meet. It was like seeing a celebrity — when you see the pictures of them and watch their movies and then there they are “in the fur” so to speak.
Brad Thomas Parsons is the author of Amaro, Bitters, and Distillery Cats. Get your paws on them at www.Amazon.com (we lied about the puns). To hear more from Brad, visit (www.btparsons.com). To see what the cats are up to meow, check out @distillerycats on Instagram.