The Distillery Cat

Did you know that distilleries and cats have a mutually beneficial relationship? August 8th is International Cat Day, so in celebration we have taken a look at the role cats play in the making of Scotch whisky and some of Scotland’s most famous distillery kitties.

Kitten with copper pot still
Bottle of Kilchoman whisky with a cat

When you make whisky, you need a sizable supply of grain. On paper, it takes about two and a half kilos of barley to make a litre of alcohol. Multiply that by 21 million litres, which is the amount some of the largest Single Malt producers can make every year, and you’ve just about made a mouse paradise.

For 18th-century farm distilleries, slogging away turning heaps of their own barley by hand, keeping the mice at bay was no small feat. Luckily for them, there are only two things you need to keep a cat happy; a plentiful supply of food and somewhere warm to sleep. And so, the harmonious relationship of cat and distillery came to be.

Through the years there have been many famous Scottish moggies, even one that was a world record holder, so allow us to introduce you to some of them.

© Kilchoman Distillery

Towser of The Glenturret

Towser, a tortoiseshell cat working her trade at The Glenturret, is said to have dispatched 28,899 furry pests in her lifetime. If you were to lay all of her wee trophies in a row, the fuzzy grey line would stretch from Edinburgh Castle to Ullapool.

Towser was so skilled at her trade that she earned an appearance in the Guinness Book of Records, under ‘Greatest Mouser’. To commemorate her 24 years of service The Glenturret erected a statue of her likeness, and even better, in 2017 they named a new bottling after her.

Towser’s position hasn’t been retired: they’ve employed an Official Mouser at the distillery ever since! There’s even a tradition of visitors sending back Christmas cards to the mousers from across the world – the current joint mousers are Glen and Turret.

Two cats, one black cat on top of a barrel, and another with flowers around it.

Smokey and Peaty of Kilchoman

These days, distillery cats can find themselves with a more modern job role. Not only are they busy keeping the mice at bay, but many distillery cats have become social media sensations! That’s what’s happened at Kilchoman, on Islay, where Smokey and Peaty pose beautifully for Instagram. Visitors love to go home with snaps of the pair in their pocket alongside their drivers’ drams. Despite going digital, these guys are some of the few distillery cats that might have the chance to beat Towser, since Kilchoman still operate a working malting floor for them to patrol.

Here we have Smokey and Peaty on patrol at Kilchoman Distillery. © Kilchoman Distillery

Lindores Abbey Distillery with two cats on a wall in the foreground

Friar John Claw and Vesper of Lindores Abbey

Smokey and Peaty aren’t the only two influencer cats. At Lindores Abbey, in Fife, and you’ll be able to meet distillery kitties Friar John Claw and Vesper, who are so thoroughly viral that they were named via the Internet, with hundreds of suggestions from across the world flooding into Lindores’ email. They now have their own Instagram account dedicated just to them, that has amassed over 75,000 followers (@friarandvesper).

Furthermore, they stared in the 2022 Netflix documentary ‘Inside the Mind of a Cat’ where you can watch them at work and learn just how good cats are at their job.

Friar John Claw and Vesper keeping an eye on operations at Lindores Abbey Distillery © Lindores Abbey Distillery

A huge thank you to our colleague Jethro writing this piece.

Slàinte Mhath!