While visiting Portland, Brad Shell’s friend told him about a business that seemed ripped from a script of “Portlandia.” The business would rent cats to anyone in need of a good snuggle.
Shell didn’t snuggle a kitten while in Portland, but he did agree with his friend when he suggested brewing a beer called “Kitten Snuggles.”
This was back in 2013, the same year Shell opened The Unknown Brewing Co. Now, his feline fermentation is about to become a reality. Bottles of Kitten Snuggles will be released at the brewery on Saturday, May 7.
And it all started with the name.
“Our brewery is weird in that most breweries come up with the beer and then come up with the name,” said Shell. “We usually come up with the name and then come up with the beer. The name came first, and then what comes to mind when you think Kitten Snuggles?”
Since cats like milk, Shell decided to brew with milk sugar (which is not uncommon in beer, but usually reserved for milk stouts). While cats might not eat apricots, the fuzz covering the fruit is not unlike that of a kitten’s fur. And of course Shell had to throw in some catnip for good measure.
While Shell’s brewed with a variety of different ingredients in his day, he’s never brewed with the herb. A quick online search revealed a long history of people using catnip in tea for its calming affects, but how would it work in a beer? Shell needed to get a taste of it before brewing with it.
“I walked around the brewery for like a week with catnip tucked into my lip like a dip, just so I could taste it and get a feel for it,” said Shell. “It’s got like a really earthy green tea taste to it, so just throwing a little into a late addition works with that farmhouse style really well.”
And when he puts it like that, it makes sense. After all, the base style of Kitten Snuggles is a farmhouse ale, a style born on the farms of France and Belgium. It wasn’t uncommon for these farmers to throw in ingredients that they could readily find on their farms. The beer is brewed with an herb, fruit, milk sugar and oats, all of which can be found in other beers today.
Chances are, the beer’s nowhere near as crazy as the label might suggest.
“You can be funny and play around with the beer, and you can be gimmicky if you want to be,” said Shell. “The beer still has to be great beer in the end. We’ve made some beers with some crazy stuff, but I think every one of them has turned out to be more than just a gimmick.”
Granted, those early brewers of saisons wouldn’t have wrapped a purple label with 20 cats on their bottles. Nor would they have put together calendars featuring themselves posing with their furry friends. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at the brewery’s release party May 7.
The calendars feature various brewery employees photographed with cats. Shell is in his pajamas on satin sheets, covered with kittens while feathers float down from above. In one photo, kitten police arrest a brewery employee; in another, kitten firefighters rescue humans stuck in a tree.
“It’s how we have fun with kittens,” said Shell.
Those calendars will be available for purchase at the brewery, with all proceeds benefiting Saving Southern Kitties. The nonprofit will bring cats and kittens rescued from kill shelters, so you can get your snuggle on or even adopt one if you so desire.
Bottles of Kitten Snuggles will be available for $13.99 each at the brewery, and they will roll out to bottle shops the week following.
Photos: Donato Pizzuti