Before she dove head first into the handcrafted rum industry, Bridget Firtle was analyzing stocks as a global alcoholic beverage analyst for a hedge fund. “It was pretty cool to invest in booze,” she says. But after watching the bustle of the craft spirit movement from afar, the New York City native decided that her job on Wall Street was nowhere near hands-on enough to satisfy her pioneering spirit.
This sparked the start of The Noble Experiment, Bridget’s Brooklyn-based distillery, aptly named for both the tongue-in-cheek nickname for the 18th amendment and the “noble experiment” that she was about to take on herself. And as a one-woman endeavor, building the business from the ground up truly lived up to the company’s name. In the year it took to finish the construction of the distillery, Bridget tasted, sipped, and drank enough rum to understand the flavors she wanted in the rum she’d be crafting, sitting in on local distilleries to learn the techniques she’d need to get started. And for the first two and a half years, it was all in her hands: distilling, bottling, labelling, distributing, and marketing her handcrafted spirits. With this, in addition to crafting the right recipe of sugarcane molasses, yeast, and water to give her rum a delicious and distinct flavor, Bridget certainly had her work cut out for her.
It’s likely because of all this hard work that we’ve never met a person who knows her rum like Bridget does. We left her distillery with not only a thorough education of how her rum is crafted (Owney’s NYC Rum, her distillery’s first product, is made from 100% sugarcane molasses), but also with a solid course on how the spirit itself takes root in American history — a story that Bridget passionately delved into upon our first meet. The first spirit produced in colonial America, rum was instantly popular among colonial dwellers. Its incredibly high demand triggered the launch of the first American distillery in present-day Staten Island in 1664, fueling a consumption of six gallons of rum per capita — an insane amount compared to today’s consumption of 1.5 gallons per person a year. With a hearty amount of optimism, one of Bridget’s hopes with The Noble Experiment is to return handcrafted rum to the former glory and popularity that the industry once thrived upon.
Bridget wears the Classic Specs Waverly sunglasses in Smoulder.
When Bridget talks about the era of American rum’s popularity, it’s hard not to notice a certain nostalgia she carries for a time when New York City was home to thousands of thriving distilleries. The name of her distillery, The Noble Experiment, nods to the pioneering bootleggers of the Prohibition era. The Noble Experiment’s first rum, Owney’s NYC Rum, is named for Owney “The Killer” Madden, an infamous gangster and rum runner from the turn of the century. But even though the era of underground speakeasies are far behind Bridget and The Noble Experiment, it’s clear that Bridget wholeheartedly loves the rum that she crafts — and her passionate work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Her distillery’s flagship product, Owney’s NYC Rum, was awarded 93 points earlier this year in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, securing it as one of the top ten rums in the world.
“Just from a little company in Bushwick,” she beams.
Bridget and her distillery have graced more than one “30 Under 30” list, including those by Forbes Magazine and Zagat NYC, and her distillery has been reviewed, profiled, and loved by dozens of publications. After all, it’s hard not to look on in awe at how much Bridget has invested herself into every step of the process in building her small empire, which has now expanded from her one-woman team to an additional four employees.
“More rum, more fun,” joked Bridget as we left The Noble Experiment. From the inside of her modest and simple distillery, it’s clear that this is no longer just an experiment, as its name initially suggested. In living, breathing, and crafting rum with her hands, Bridget’s work in the craft spirits community has evolved into more of a lifestyle — and quite a noble one at that.