A look side the spirited lives of distillery cats - WDRB 41 Louisville News

A look side the spirited lives of distillery cats

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Behind every successful bourbon is a distillery cat, part of a long tradition of felines who have guarded the Bourbon Trail. In honor of Bourbon Heritage Month, we raise our glasses to distillery cats and take you inside their spirited lives.

After sitting abandoned for years, the Old Taylor Distillery outside Frankfort will rise from the ruins, reborn as Castle and Key. While the historic property won't open for months, a key hire is already ready: Rick the distillery cat.

"Rick was one of our most integral hires at the distillery," said Brett Connors, brand ambassador for Castle and Key. "He handles everything from supervising our staff. Literally watching them. He does some water purification testing, really just water drinking, if we want to be true about it."

Distillery cats are a Bourbon Trail tradition -- the original pest control.

"We use a lot of corn in the process, a lot of rye, a lot of wheat and that naturally attracts field mice and the like. So a cat was a simple way to scare them off," said Connors.

The job requires the people skills to greet guests and the heart of a cold-blooded killer, which is not necessarily Rick's forte.

"While he was brought on to be a mouser originally, we found he's much more suited for hospitality and guest experience on site," said Connors.

Lucky for him, modern day advances mean Rick is now more of a mascot. He's a formal fella often caught wearing a tie. 

"He also has a little bow tie that's more of his every day wear that way he looks professional, but isn't overly formal and approachable," said Connors.

Rick lives a nice life considering he started life as a stray. Castle and Key adopted Rick from a local rescue after learning he has FIV: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. That didn't stop them from making Rick their first official distillery cat. 

"He's definitely spoiled here, and it's definitely an opportunity for him to have the life he deserves," said Connors.

Four miles down the road at Woodford Reserve, the whiskey whiskers have stretched back for generations. The latest feline fetcher is Oscar.

"He likes to keep to the porch and kind of just hang out and bask in the sun," said Woodford Reserve Master Taster Elizabeth McCall.

A roly poly tabby who has some big shoes to fill, Elijah the distillery cat spent more than 20 years roaming the sprawling grounds until his death in 2014.

"You'd be out on a tour and he'd just pop up and be like 'hey how's it going' and greet everybody, and he just became a legend around here," said McCall.

A bronze plaque now memorializes the legendary mouser's favorite spot.

"He was just special and hopefully Oscar will be able to do that," said McCall.

As bourbon booms in the Bluegrass, a new generation of the cat-bassadors is born. Jeptha Creed is Shelby County's newest distillery and it has four sisters, Wheat, Rye, Malt and Barley, to keep its grounds pest free.

"I had high hopes that they would be mousers, and keep all the mice away from the distillery, but I don't think they're going to make it," said Jeptha Creed co-owner Joyce Nethery.

The four were discovered in a pile of straw on the distillery grounds. "Couldn't find the mom. It was very sad and we couldn't leave them so we brought them into the distillery, bottle fed them and now we have four cats," said Nethery.

Now six-month-old balls of energy, the spirited squad live in the lap of luxury. "They have the Cadillac of homes for cats. It's a converted chicken coop," said Nethery.

With a permanent place on social media, they act as mascots for the whiskey maker. The four are entertaining guests and continuing the bourbon trail tradition.

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