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Eat and Drink

'Distillery Cats' profiles the hard-working felines of the spirits industry

Bodega cats may get all the Instagram love, but they aren’t the only hard-working felines in this town.

Distillery (and brewery) cats — like Gangsta Cat of Gowanus’ Other Half Brewing Co. — do their part to keep mice in check and entertain customers at the city’s craft spirit businesses, as Brooklyn writer Brad Thomas Parsons knows better than anyone.

His new book, a New York Times stocking stuffer selection, collects the “stats” and backstories of 30 such industrious cats from around the country.

Parsons, 48, says he first envisioned “Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World’s Most Spirited Mousers" as a series of painted, vintage baseball cards not for athletes but for felines.

Each “card” includes a portrait by illustrator Julia Kuo, the name of the distillery or brewery they work for, a few quick facts (like their official job title, their superpower and their favorite human body part), and a biography.

The author, whose previous books detailed the history of bitters and amaro, has dedicated this latest title to his tabby friend and roommate: “I joke that … [like] very serious actors that suddenly do a voiceover for Pixar movie, and say, ‘This one is for my kids,’ I say, ‘This one is for Louis.’”

Was Louis, we asked, ever jealous of the subjects Parsons profiled in “Distillery Cats”?

He remained his "usual semi-aloof self,” reports the Carroll Gardens resident, who did take pains to wash his hands after "interviews."

Below, Parsons talks with us about three felines he met (and pet), all of whom earned their mousing stripes in New York City:

Gangsta Cat of Other Half Brewing Co.

Favorite human body part: Lap (but only on
Photo Credit: Julia Kuo

Favorite human body part: Lap (but only on her terms)

Favorite toy: Gangsta Cat doesn't have time for toys

Hobby: Putting the squeeze on weaker cats

Number of mice apprehended: Unknown

Home address: 195 Centre St., Brooklyn

Of all the outstanding felines in his book, Gangsta Cat "is definitely the one that represents NYC best," Parsons says.

"What I love about her: She doesn't technically live at the brewery," he elaborates. "She lives in a cat colony next door and she pretty much runs that street. She's the unofficial mayor of that Gowanus strip there on the border of Carroll Garden and keeps the other visiting cats in check. But then she likes to post up at the brewery during the day and I see it almost as punching a clock."

Gangsta Cat earned her street name by harassing not another cat, but a pooch -- Other Half owner and master brewer Sam Richardson's dog.

"I think she's the biggest personality, has a great name and a just funny little backstory of being this tough cookie," Parsons says. An oft-repeated story at the brewery is that one of her admirers once tried to take her home and adopt her, only to have her destroy their apartment 24 hours later. They promptly returned her to her home on Centre Street, where she pops into Other Half's taproom for a snack and pets whenever she wants them.

Jeffy of Kings County Distillery

Job title: Rodent-eradicator emeritusBest friend: CarlosFavorite toy: Ball
Photo Credit: Julia Kuo

Job title: Rodent-eradicator emeritus

Best friend: Carlos

Favorite toy: Ball of used blue masking tape

Superpower: Can knock on doors

Home address: 299 Sands St., Brooklyn

Parsons first met this retired mouser when he was one half of a dynamic cat duo.

"Carlos and Jeffy were this great tag team that ran the show" at Kings County Distillery, he recalls. "And they had the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yard as their playground. They took care of the mice pretty quickly." But their hunting prowess was called into service again after superstorm Sandy damaged grain bags in the distillery and attracted a horde of displaced mice. "It took about three weeks, but they cleaned house," Parsons says.

Since an urban feline disease claimed Carlos' life, Jeffy spends most of his free time in a little room that was once a lab and an employee break room. Today, it's the "cat lab."

When Parsons asked Kings County Distillery co-founder and master distiller Colin Spoelman what Jeffy does there, he had this response: "Jeffy is an employee, so what he does in his private life is his own business. We don't ask so long as the job he was hired to do is getting done -- and so far, he's earning his keep."

Hoodie of Newburgh Brewing Company

Job title: Controller and general accounting managerFavorite toy:
Photo Credit: Julia Kuo

Job title: Controller and general accounting manager

Favorite toy: Fake stuffed bird on a string

Hobby: Scratching expensive things

Number of mice apprehended: 57

Home address: 88 Colden St., Newburgh

A breakout star on Newburgh Brewing Company's Instagram and a face on the label of the brewery's latest release, Hoodie may have made a name for herself in New York's Orange County, but "she has Brooklyn street cred," Parsons says. A Brooklyn Brewery employee discovered her hiding under the hood of his car on a cold day, so he gave the stray an internship at his company. There she studied under the tutelage of her legendary mentor, Monster (RIP), before moving upstate and becoming the unofficial mascot of Newburgh Brewing Company. ("I've met her a couple of times," Parsons says. "It was like meeting Oprah -- I was just so excited and I couldn't talk.")

Visitors are always asking to take selfies with her. When she isn't posing for the camera, she's lying across paperwork in the office of Newburgh's owner or catching mice.

"Fast facts" above reprinted with permission from Distillery Cats, copyright © 2017 by Brad Thomas Parsons. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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