When Geordie Rauch of Calusa Brewing brought Bones and Domino to his 8,500-square-foot Sarasota, Florida brewery, he wasn’t sure what to expect. “Bones tends to keep to himself,” Rauch says, whereas Domino is the first one to walk into the tasting room to greet patrons. “He’ll just cruise around, sleep underneath peoples’ tables,” Rauch says.
Both under three years old, Bones and Domino are energetic cats. Domino, with patches of black and white fur, intense yellow eyes and bushy white whiskers, is known for climbing the property’s palm trees and napping in patrons’ cars. Bones is almost all white with a tabby-like cap of brown and black stripes, and prefers to hang out in the production space. They have their own Instagram page and they’ve become unofficial mascots of the brewery. But first and foremost, “they’ve got to do their job,” Rauch says, “keep the rodents away. And that’s what they’ve absolutely done for us.”
“We were paying a pest control company ungodly amounts of money,” Rauch says. Then he got a recommendation to bring in a tomcat. He was surprised to learn about a program at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay that adopts out cats specifically for breweries, warehouses, barns, and docks with pest problems. The cats are considered unsocial or semi-feral and unsuitable for housepets.
Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, finds that semi-feral cats often make the best working cats. “These are cats that are not easily adopted or can't be adopted into a normal home in most cases, so it's an outlet for shelters that can place these cats,” Silk explains. “And [the cats] can work for the place where they end up, and it saves their lives, really.”
It’s a step between being a housepet and being on the street. That’s how Rauch “hired” Bones and Domino. And since then, Rauch says the rodent issue has disappeared completely. “We haven’t seen a trace in over a year.”
Teddy hails from a harsher climate: the snow-covered hills of the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York, where he’s worked at West Kill Brewing for about two years. “He’s pretty much our second employee,” says Ashley Bohan, West Kill’s operations manager and Teddy’s official photographer. “He’s in charge of taking care of the rodents.”
Teddy seems meant for the job. “He’s one of the smartest cats I’ve seen, but also super friendly with humans,” Bohan says. “He’s a killer, but so lovable and just wants attention from people.”
Teddy looks both wild and majestic in a coat of thick, long grey fur, which insulates him in his snowy surroundings. His dashing looks earned him a place of honor on the label of West Kill’s oatmeal stout, Fresh Coat.
“We knew all along Teddy would have to be featured on a can at some point,” says Bohan. She’s also the artist behind the can design, which features Teddy in a 70s ski suit on top of his fluffy fur coat. “We’re just so happy to have him and that everyone loves him as much as we do.”
In Eagle, Colorado, Bonfire Brewing boasts another lovable killer: Simon. According to marketing coordinator Cheyenne Richardson, owners Andy and Amanda Jessen were looking for an older brewery cat when Simon, only four months old, swayed them with his irresistible cross-eyed gaze. That was in 2016, when the short-haired tabby was Bonfire’s solution to a mouse problem in their warehouse, where they store thousands of pounds of grain.
“Simon was originally hired as our full-time mouser,” Richardson says. She adds that Simon killed close to 50 mice in his first year. Now that Simon’s nearing four years old he's become more of a “supervisor,” although his presence alone seems to keep the mice away. “As far as he's concerned, he's the CEO of Bonfire.”
According to Richardson, a brewery cat needs “a big personality and independence.” Being adorable and photogenic doesn’t hurt, either.
While you won’t find Simon in the taproom, you’ll likely find plenty of dogs enjoying the scene with their thirsty owners. Bonfire Brewing holds frequent “Pints & Pooches” adoption events in partnership with the Eagle County Animal Services. “They bring in a few adoptable dogs and discount the adoption fee for any dog adopted at the event, and we throw in a six-pack for the new family to enjoy together at home.”
Plenty of cats have stories like this, including Otter, a retired brewery cat formerly of Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales in Denver, Colorado. The sleek black cat (now with only one eye due to a recent surgery) came from the Dumb Friends League’s working cats program. According to Maia Brusseau, public relations manager, the program “provides a second chance for cats that would not otherwise be able to become available for adoption.”
In 2013, the program found homes—and jobs—for 40 cats. That number has steadily grown since that inaugural year. As of June 2019, 2,232 cats have been adopted through the program. As with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, all working cats have had health evaluations, are up to date on vaccines, and have been neutered or spayed. They require owners to feed, water and shelter them. Working cat adoption fees are always free.
“Working cats typically fall somewhere between a feral cat and one that is unsocial,” Brusseau says. Which works well for people looking for pest control. She laughs when she says “these cats are earning their keep.”
Just outside Los Angeles, another working cat has a big job: mouse patrol for the pubs’ centralized brewery warehouse, which stores all the grain for the four brewpubs in the Artisanal Brewers Collective (The Stalking Horse Brewery, Broxton Brewery & Public House, Bluebird Brasserie, and 6th & La Brea).
The rodents had been tearing into bags of grain and spilling it all over the floors. “The brewers were really frustrated because we were losing a lot of grain,” says Ray Burns, accounts payable coordinator. The team thought bringing in a working cat would be a more natural solution than using traps.
That’s when they introduced Mookie—a sweet grey and white short-hair with a curiously cropped tail—who lives in the warehouse year-round. “I basically consider Mookie my officemate,” Burns says. “It's just the two of us on a full-time basis in this office.”
Mookie went to work immediately, and Burns hasn’t seen spilled grain—or a mouse—in months. The brewers are happy, too, and even named a beer in his honor: Mookie’s IPA.
Burns mentions how many warehouse cats tend to be feral cats that cannot be rehomed into families. But not Mookie. “Mookie is a lover and can't get enough attention. Even when it's just me in the office all day, he's curled up on my desk or lap for most of the day.”
These are cats who are earning their keep—and earning a lot of love and affection in the process.
“I think every brewery should have a cat,” Brusseau says.
Main photo by Benny Ray, Calusa Brewing