WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - Hundreds of people make the trip each day to Woodford Reserve. They may be coming for the bourbon, but for nearly two decades, something else has been making an impression here as well.
"He adopted us, basically, is what he did," said worker J.P. Seppenfield. He first noticed him when he started working here in 1998. He lived in a cottage on the property.
"I walked outside one day and there's this big, yellow cat on the deck and my wife says don't feed that cat, he'll never leave," Seppenfield said.
Seppenfield's wife was right. The cat stuck around long enough to get a name, Elijah. They named after Elijah Pepper, who began distilling bourbon on the grounds in the 1800s. And this Elijah didn’t just stick around. He made a name for himself here.
"He was the keeper of the warehouse, the keeper of the people. This was his afternoon spot. Literally, the tours would just walk around him and sometimes he would just roll over on his back," Seppenfield said.
Sometimes, Elijah would plop down in his favorite shady spot, keeping a close eye on those passing tour groups.
For J.P., each day at the distillery began with Elijah.
"Every morning, we have to open the warehouse up and he would be standing at the door saying ,'Feed me and pet me,',"he said.
Like all the barrels of bourbon in those warehouses where he made his home, Elijah aged too. No one knows his exact age, but they peg him at right around 20 years old. That’s why what happened on June 30 didn’t come as a shock.
"She walked around and found him laying next to the warehouse. He hung right around here. He laid down. He went to sleep and he didn't get back up. He wanted to be with us in life and death, I guess," Seppenfield said.
Woodford Reserve announced Elijah’s death on their Facebook page July 23. That’s when it became clear just how big an impression he’d made on all the people who visited the distillery over the years. Hundreds shared the post.
"It's really sad, but it's cool, too. The fact that he impacted so many people," Seppenfield said.
People added their favorite pictures of the orange cat at various stages of his life under the hashtag “#RememberingElijah”.
"We've had people come and go, but I think he will be a focal point for a long time," Seppenfield said.
In the bourbon business, you hear about the “angel’s share”, the bourbon that evaporates while the barrels sit in those warehouses. Now, the distillery workers like to think Elijah’s there with those angels, enjoying a little bit of his share.
"He's amongst the best angels in the world, you know? If I was going to die, it would want to be right here," Seppenfield said.
Master Distiller Chris Morris said the distillery will put up a plaque honoring Elijah and he will be succeeded, but certainly not replaced, by another distillery cat.