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BUSINESS

2 MIN

Cats Earn Their Keep at Chicago Brewery

Empirical Brewery hired a quartet of cats to look after its rodent infestation

A brewery in Chicago has four whiskered creatures to thank for helping to make its beer a success.

Yes, brewery cats. Empirical Brewery brought on Venkman, Raymond, Egon and Gozer – all named for characters in Ghostbusters – about a year and a half ago to protect the grain used in the brewing process from rodents. Up to that point, the brewery staff, along with a pest control company, had tried every method they could think of to keep the rats at bay. Turns out that’s no easy task in a city that Animal Planet has named one of the 10 worst in the world when it comes to rats.

That’s when they heard about the Cats at Work program at Chicago’s Tree House Humane Society, which takes feral cats off the streets, sterilizes and vaccinates them, and then turns them over to businesses and residents so the cats can help keep the rat population down (the organization recently placed thousands of cats with residents around town to do the same type of work). Empirical Brewery adopted three boys and a girl cat that had been part of a colony found in an abandoned lot and taken into the shelter.

Today, head brewer Nevin McCown frequently finds himself in the role of cat tender. He generally gets to work earliest to brew Empirical’s inventive beers, like a strawberry IPA, a ginger wheat with lime zest and pepper, and a porter with cocoa nibs and chili peppers.

“Whoever gets in first gets the honor of cleaning poop and taking care of [the cats],” he says. As a cat lover with two of his own at home, McCown says he doesn’t mind.

The staff at the brewery built a multi-level home for the brood near the brewing equipment and have watched as the cats slowly become more comfortable around people, making occasional public appearances during Saturday brewery tours and even allowing for a head scratch here and there.  

Since the mousers took up residence, there have been no rodent sightings. “Now that the cats are here the rats and mice don’t even come into the building,” says operations manager Jim Ruffatto. “They’re scared away by the scent of the cats.”

“They don’t have to work very hard,” McCown adds. One exception to the cats’ total domination: A baby squirrel that got into the brewery. The humans were able to get to it before the cats and they released it outside.  

In addition to acting as the rodent security outfit, the cats have become quite an impressive PR team for the brewery. Local media have published stories about the cats. Journalism students at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University made a short video about the felines, which has been viewed nearly 5 million times. And one of the cats, Venkman, even has his own Twitter account.

“We’ve definitely gotten more attention for the cats than the beer,” says Ruffatto. The kitties have launched the brewery into a category of its own.

Published Friday, June 3rd 2016

Header image credit: Venkman the Cat/Courtesy Venkman the Cat

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