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Thursday Watercooler


A tortoiseshell black & white cat, photographed against a stone wall.

Brooke, the current Mouser at Glenturret Distillery, must fill Towser’s legendary shoes.

Tonight we learn about “Corruption, Wealth and Beauty: the History of the Venetian Gondola” from TED-Ed.

It’s hard to imagine Venice without the curious, banana-shaped gondolas that glide down the canals. How did these boats come to be the trademark transportation of Venice? Laura Morelli details the history of the gondola, explaining why these boats were needed, the painstaking process by which they were made and why they have slowly begun to fade from the once-crowded canals.

Lesson by Laura Morelli, animation by Andrew Foerster.

Ari Shapiro, writing for NPR, brought a special class of feline to my attention: the distillery cat!

There’s the common house cat, the scrappy alley cat, the quasi-domesticated barn cat. Less famous, but equally distinguished on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, is the distillery cat.

Scotland may be the best place to investigate this member of the feline tribe. With more than 100 whisky distilleries crammed into an area about the size of Kansas, the only question is where to start.

We chose the oldest distillery in the country. Glenturret has been operating nonstop in central Scotland since 1775. General Manager Stuart Cassells says it still does things old-school.

[…]On the central path between buildings at Glenturret, the scent of leaves and grass mixes with the smells of wood, smoke and caramel from the whisky-making process. Looming over it all is a proud bronze statue. It’s not the company founder, or a bottle of whisky. It’s a cat. The greatest distillery cat of them all.

Towser the Mouser is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for catching mice. Estimated lifetime kills: 28,899. ‘They say every time Towser caught a mouse, she brought it back to the stillhouse,’ says Neal Cameron, who has been making the whisky here for 19 years. ‘Whether it was the whole mouse or it was a headless mouse, I have no idea. But she brought them back to the stillman.’

Cameron explains that whisky requires grain, which attracts mice and birds. And that is the very short distillery cat origin story.

Vermin are not such a problem today. ‘We might get the odd one, two mice throughout the year, but that’s about it,’ says Cameron.

[…]’The contemporary distillery cat is becoming more of an ambassador,’ says author and food journalist Brad Thomas Parsons. He wrote a piece in the drinks magazine Punch that first alerted us to the potential of the distillery cat as a subject for serious journalism.

Parsons explains that this is a perfect marketing device. Cats are inherently photogenic. ‘I haven’t seen any one-eyed cats or very curious cats’ in the distilleries, he says. ‘From tortoiseshell to white to black to tuxedo to marmalade to ginger — when you have a cat sleeping on a bourbon barrel or curled up in the rafters, it’s a good picture. It’s a good image all around.’

Everyone taking a tour of your distillery posts a photo of the cat on Facebook or Instagram, and voila! Free advertising.

And remember, Winter is coming …

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Photo by B4Bees released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and