Proof It's Never Too Late To Pursue Your Calling
From Hedge Fund Analyst to Rum Distiller
Take a girl with a knack for math and barrelfuls of gumption. Raise her in a house with a Prohibition-era speakeasy in the basement. Stir in a granddad who owned a Brooklyn bar. Add a twist of business school, a finger of finance-world chops and several dashes of can-do spirit. Bridget Firtle, a self-taught distiller of artisanal rum, might call the result her signature cocktail: It's the story of her life. After earning her MBA at Binghamton University in upstate New York, Firtle landed a position as a research and investment analyst covering the consumer staples sector—food, beverages, household goods—at a New York hedge fund. "I developed a niche in the global alcohol market," she says—a duty that brought the burgeoning trend of domestic small-batch distillery to her attention. Yet few boutique distillers were making rum, Firtle's favorite liquor. ("Rum, fresh lime and sugar—that's the holy trinity," she says.) She decided somebody ought to. And so after trading stocks by day, Firtle began price-comparing copper stills at night. She moved in with her parents to save start-up capital and hunted for an industrial space in Brooklyn. She found one after looking at about 30 properties, then appointed herself head distiller of the Noble Experiment NYC. She taught herself the finer points of fermentation and distillation science (eukaryotic microorganisms and anaerobic respiration, formation of aldehydes...). And bottling. And also marketing. And distribution. Firtle's hard work shows in her white rum, Owney's NYC, which is made with only molasses, yeast and filtered New York City tap water, a nod to her hometown. In fact, little about her operation isn't rooted in her spirited background. Says Firtle: "How could I have done anything but this?"