Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat : Parallels Whisky requires grain, which attracts mice and birds, which is why we have distillery cats. These days, though, public relations is also a key part of the job.
NPR logo

Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/347093135/347151216" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat

Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/347093135/347151216" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, the naming of cats is a difficult matter. It isn't just one of your holiday games.

And we're going to hear now about Towser the mouser. NPR's Ari Shapiro went to Scotland to investigate a record-holding distillery cat.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: There are more than a 100 whiskey distilleries in Scotland. So where to start? How about the oldest one in the country. Glenturret has been operating here nonstop since 1775. General manager Stuart Cassels says they're still old-school.

STUART CASSELS: We have no computers, no machinery. We are the only whiskey distillery that still hand-mashes the mash, which is the water and the barley at the beginning. We stir it like a porridge.

SHAPIRO: Along the central path that leads between buildings at Glenturret, there is a proud, bronze statue. It's not the company founder or a bottle of whiskey, it's a cat. The greatest distillery cat of them all - Towser the mouser. She is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for catching mice. Lifetime kills - 28,899. Neal Cameron has made the whiskey here for almost 20 years.

NEAL CAMERON: They say every time that Towser caught a mouse, she brought it back to the stillhouse, she did. Now, whether that was a whole mouse or it was a headless mouse, I have no idea. But she brought them back to the stillman.

SHAPIRO: Cameron explains whiskey requires grain, which attracts mice and birds. And that is the very short distillery cat origin story. Vermin are not such a problem today.

CAMERON: Now-a-days? No. We may get the odd one, two mice throughout the year, but that's about it.

SHAPIRO: So if you no longer have a mice problem, why have a distillery cat?

CAMERON: Because we've always had a cat at the distillery. We have. You know, it's not a dog, it's not a horse. It's a cat.

SHAPIRO: Cameron actually chose the latest distillery cat at Glennturret - a tiny kitten named Peat - P-E-A-T - like the smoky flavor in whiskey.

CAMERON: Had a look at him. Thought, yep. Gave him a few strokes and thought he was a friendly looking cat. Held him for a wee while and decided, right. He's the one.

SHAPIRO: We will meet Peat in a moment. But first, the analyst.

BRAD THOMAS PARSONS: The contemporary distillery cat is becoming more of an ambassador.

SHAPIRO: Food writer Brad Thomas Parsons wrote a piece in the drinks magazine Punch that first alerted us to the tremendous news value of the distillery cat as a subject for serious journalism. He says this is a perfect marketing ploy. Cats are so photogenic.

PARSONS: I haven't seen any like one-eyed cats or very curious cats. Most of them have been very - from tortoiseshell to white to black to tuxedo to marmalade to ginger - you know, when you have a cat sleeping on a bourbon barrel or curled up in the rafters, it's a good picture, you know, it's a good image all around.

SHAPIRO: Everyone taking a tour of your distillery posts a photo of the cat on Facebook or Instagram and boom, free advertising. The practice is now widespread on both sides of the Atlantic.

CHRIS MORRIS: I'm Chris Morris, master distiller at the Woodford Reserve distillery.

SHAPIRO: As you can hear from his twang, Morris makes Kentucky bourbon. For 20 years, a cat named Elijah ruled the roost at Woodford Reserve.

SHAPIRO: He never met a person he didn't like. He'd walk right up to you and rub against your legs and follow you around. I said - I always said he was more ham than cat.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter). Was he a good mouser?

MORRIS: Well, don't know because everybody fed him. He didn't really have to mouse that much.

SHAPIRO: Earlier this summer, Elijah was found one morning under a tree. He had passed away peacefully in the night.

MORRIS: The Internet just lit up with condolences and people sharing photographs of Elijah. It was really touching. And it went into the hundreds and hundreds of people.

SHAPIRO: So from the old to the new.

Hi Peat. Oh my God, you're so tiny. Back at Glenturret distillery in Scotland, Peat is just six months old. A little puffball the color of smoke. We approach with our big fluffy microphone, hoping to pick up a teeny meow.

He has grabbed the microphone. I think he's got the instincts. Peat clearly has the killer reflexes of a champion mouser. Not to mention the looks. Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.