Following years in the beer industry, Rhonda Kallman felt like it was time to switch to her first love: whiskey.
Kallman was Jim Koch’s co-founder at Boston Beer Co., the parent company of Sam Adams Boston Lager, when she left Boston Consulting Group in the 1980s. Kallman, at the time was Koch’s secretary, but had the foresight to leave the consulting firm and helped build Boston Beer into the behemoth it is today.
“It was a lot of right decisions and things done early at the right time,” Kallman said. “There’s a combination of quality and passion and timing and luck.”
Upon leaving as an executive in 2000, Kallman ventured into a doomed beer business before starting Boston Harbor Distillery.
Now, in a Boston building constructed in 1859, Boston Harbor Distillery is making a variety of spirits, ranging from whiskey to rum to liqueurs under the watchful eye of Kallman and her team, led by master distiller John Couchot.
Boston Harbor Distillery makes a brand of rum under the Lawley’s name (a yacht manufacturer that used to be housed in the same building). A clear and dark rum are distilled in nod to New England, using molasses and maple syrup instead of sugar cane.
Boston Harbor Distillery also makes Putnam New England Rye Whiskey, complete with allspice and raspberry on the nose, raspberry, cherry and ginger on the tongue and a smooth finish.
Additionally, Boston Harbor Distillery has partnered with Kallman’s old partner, Koch, and distilled three “Spirit of Boston” limited releases, made with Samuel Adams New World Tripel, Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour Stout and Samuel Adams Merry Maker.
Boston Harbor Distillery has a uphill battle in front of it, like the rest of craft distillers which must distinguish themselves from the old guard.
“Craft beer is an ingredient story. When we started Sam Adams, it was a land of bland. Yellow, corn-based pilsners,” she said. “There is a lot more education that has to come with spirits. If you look at them, a Diageo whiskey and any other bottle, forget the label, they look the same. That makes this a little harder.”