The Noble Experiment NYC

Who would guess that a rum-running Prohibition-age gangster would inspire someone to start making rum in Brooklyn nearly 100 years later?  Meet Bridget C. Firtle, founder and owner of The Noble Experiment NYC.  Her rum, Owney’s, is named after Owen Madden, a bit of an infamous character in 1920’s New York.  But Bridget is far from infamous – in fact, she’s working toward a rum empire of her own, sans gangsters of course!

The Noble Experiment founder

I was able to catch up with Bridget for the 2nd post in my series on female distillers for Women’s History Month.  (you can read the first here)  Bridget’s currently a one-woman show – early on, she’d put bottles of rum in her bag and pound the pavement, getting the word out on Owney’s.  Let’s find out how it all started:

LYL: When you left the hedge fund and started TNE, tell me about the day you decided to take the plunge.

BCF: I had been envisioning TNE and bringing rum distilling back to New York for years before I made the leap.  It really began as a fantasy while I was doing research and investing in the alcoholic beverage industry for the hedge fund.  Over the course of the first 6 months of 2011, that vision kept getting louder and louder inside my head and I couldn’t seem to ignore it.  One day in June of 2011, I was watching a TED talk about venture capital given by a professor at the Stanford Business School.  He was expressing to the students that they wouldn’t have the credentials or experience to enter a venture capital firm without having run their own business first.  It was so motivating to hear him speak about encouraging his students to take risk and not be afraid to fail.  I started writing a business plan how to execute my vision that day.  I spent to rest of 2011 figuring out funding and left the hedge fund the day before Christmas Eve 2011.  That day was extremely liberating and exciting like so many days since.  It’s indescribable to be in control of your own destiny and truly know what you were meant to do.

LY: I think it’s awesome that you made your rum – and went door to door, hustling

 your hooch.  Not every day was a “yes, I’ll buy it!” day – what keeps you going?

 BCF: There are lots of things internally and externally that keep me going.  I think I am inherently a very driven, motivated and disciplined individual.  I am also a risk-taker (that happens to be all-in!).  Most importantly, I feel very strongly about my love of rum and very proud of Owney’s which is really awesome to get to share with the world.  From an external standpoint, it’s the consumers.  It’s an unbelievable feeling to receive tweets/instagram pics/emails from strangers telling me how much they love Owney’s.  I have started printing these things out and pinning them up in my office.  They are truly priceless and I am so grateful for each and every acknowledgement. 

On the days when things are bad, I talk to myself.  Sometimes I stare at the ceiling and talk to myself.  Lots of times I listen to rap really loud and run fast at the gym and talk to myself.  Sometimes it feels like someone has you up against the ropes and is just working you with body shots.  So you tell yourself to get up.  You look for one little ounce of strength and energy and you capitalize on it and you yell at yourself to keep your head up and keep swinging.  So yelling at myself is the answer on those days.  The best part of those days is you forget how bad they can be because the next day is undoubtedly better.  And let’s face it, the pleasure would never be as good without the pain. 

LYL: What do you think the advantages are of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? Do you think being Bridget instead of Bob helps to sell your product?

BCF: I think in my case, it sets me apart and acts as a point of differentiation for my company and product just like the ingredients or distillation technique.  I really don’t believe the consumer of my product cares if I am a man or a woman.  They care about good juice.  They also care about authenticity and transparency.  I like to keep things real and normal and not ‘sell’ anyone on anything – including being a woman.  I happened to be born a woman so it is hard to answer questions that involve being a woman vs being a man since I have never been a man.  I would imagine it is just as hard for both sexes to construct a distillery, make good booze and build a brand.

LYL: Like any product made from scratch by a human, distilling is as much art as it science. Bridget taught herself the science – visiting distillers from New York to Kentucky, and reading everything she could lay her hands on.  But the  art – that intangible something that separates a good product from a great one. How did you learn the art?TNE_Distillery

BCF: The art was a combination of two main things.  First off, it was drinking lots of rum.  By doing so, I was able to smell and taste what I liked and disliked.  When I liked a certain style, I would then try to find out everything I could about the inner-workings/making of that particular product.  By understanding what flavor profiles resulted from certain techniques, I was able to shape my own unique style.  Once I understood that concept, I took it to the distillery and played.  Lots of the art is learning by doing.  Every day builds on itself and my art is ever-evolving.

LYL: Is an aged rum or maybe whiskey in your future plans once Owney’s is, well, holding its own?

BCF: Yes, most definitely.  Hopefully, I will have the chance to lay down a number of barrels in 2014 that will contribute to our aged rum program.  No whiskey or other spirits on the horizon.  Just rum.  I love rum.  We want to be New York’s rum distillery with a number of varietals (eventually!).

Make sure if you’re in New York that you stop by The Noble Experiment for a tour and tasting – tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you!

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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