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Life After Wall Street—The Whiskey Olympics

Wednesday, 25 Aug 2010 | 2:59 PM ET

When Josh Wortman was fired from his job on Wall Street in early 2010, he was devastated. He worried about how he would pay the mortgage.

Joshua Wortman
Source: Youtube
Joshua Wortman

But the more he started thinking about it, the more he realized he was at a turning point. So he said to himself:

“I’m not looking for a job today. Or tomorrow. I’m not calling headhunters. I’m going to make whiskey.”

Wortman, a self-proclaimed whiskey lover, spent 10 years on Wall Street, most recently doing investor relations for Credit Suisse. Before that, he was at Citigroup.

Even before he lost his job, he’d been thinking of getting out of the rat race and pursuing and industry he was passionate about — spirits.

Soon after he was laid off, he heard about the contest at Irish whiskey maker Bushmillsto be an apprentice to master distiller Colum Egan— and jumped at the chance.

Wortman, a former film student, made a compelling application video, telling the tale of losing his job on Wall Street, while violins played in the background.

“There are those people who want to be a tailor and they go to Italy to study in the fine traditions from the old masters,” he says. “There are those who want to be a sushi chef and they’ll go to Japan. I want to make whiskey. I need to go to Ireland. It just makes sense.”

As he spoke of his choice to leave it all behind and pursue his passion, whiskey, the violins gave way to heel-stomping Riverdance music. Deedle a deedle a deedle...ba BA! (Watch the video here.)

Nine finalistswere selected to compete for the month-long apprentice job, each from a different country.

Wortman is currently at Bushmills, representing America, in what you might call the Olympics of the whiskey world. The winner will be decided on Thursday.

Bushmills is very hush-hush about what events they’ll compete in.

So, how did Wortman train for this Whiskey Olympics?

Contrary to what you might think — it wasn’t drinking.

He did a lot of smelling instead — that's right, SMELLING. He suspects that one of the tests may be to identify different Bushmills whiskeys by nose.

“I tried not to drink!” he joked.

He also buffed up his marketing muscles — hitting up local whiskey bars in Manhattan to try to drum up the necessary votes to get him into the contest. He says marketing is key for any whiskey maker.

“You have to have a delicious spirit, yes, but getting people to enjoy the whiskey — marketing — is critical,” Wortman said.

The winner will receive a one-month apprenticeship at Bushmills as well as the chance to make his or her own whiskey. It would have to maintain a base of Bushmills taste but the winner could put his or her stamp on it.

So what would Wortman’s whiskey be like?

“I tend to like some of the interesting spicy notes that come through,” Wortman explained. “A lot of those kind of spice notes come from the wood and what type of barrel that spirit is aged in,” he said. For example, you might age it in an old bourbon barrel, or one that held sherry or port.

He’s competing against nine others, including the head sommelier from a three-star Michelin restaurant in southwest France and a lifeguard/bartender named Ivan from Bulgaria.

And the whiskey's red glare!
The smells bursting in air ...

U-S-A! U-S-A!

More Whiskey From the Pony:

Questions? Comments? Drop a comment in the box below. Or, email ponyblog@cnbc.com.

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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