Who's That Gal: Rhonda Kallman of Boston Harbor Distillery

MEET RHONDA

Name: Rhonda Kallman
Hometown: Cohasset, MA
Current ‘Hood: Neponset
Favorite Thing About Fall: Colors!

How did you become interested in the alcohol + spirits industry?

It’s literally been a lifelong passion. I love everything about it -- the process, the flavors, the conviviality and the lifestyle.

When you first co-founded Boston Beer Co., did you have any idea how successful it would become? When did you know that your concept was really working?

Jim Koch and I thought it would take 5 years to get out of Boston, which happened in the first 9 months! In year three, the industry finally starting realizing this wasn’t a fad that will go away--craft beer was here to stay! In year eight, we had our biggest year-over-year growth and knew then that the revolution for craft beer was well on its way.

Onto your latest venture: tell us a little bit about Boston Harbor Distillery. What makes it special?

BHD is special in so many ways! We’ve brought back to life a pre-Civil War era building that has been the center of entrepreneurial commerce since mid 1800s and named all of our brands after the entrepreneurs who had commerce there -- Putnam, Lawley’s and Seymour’s. We produce grain-to-glass whiskey and other spirits using locally-sourced and regionally-inspired ingredients that are amazingly good! We love educating enthusiasts on how we make everything by hand in our American-made copper pot still with serial #1776 on it! BHD hosts tours/tastings/events and offers an experience like no other.

How is the whiskey industry different than the beer industry? Are there similarities to starting BHD to when you co-founded Boston Beer Co.?

Although I’ve only been actually going to market with the brands in the last few months, I’m really enjoying selling spirits. For one thing, they are easier to carry around--don’t have to be served cold and stay on top of the bar, not underneath in a cooler that people can’t see. Beer is perishable which makes it more labor intensive. The similarities in starting up is in building the company, brands and team. Thirty years ago, people in Boston didn’t know anything about small batch, hand crafted, grain-to-glass. Things have finally changed!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced starting the distillery?

There are so many regulatory hurdles from each faction of government--federal, state and city as well as neighborhood politics--takes a lot of time and energy. Farmer-distillers are still relatively new and therefore there are lots of gray areas left up to interpretation.

Any tricks to balancing work with the rest of your life?

This is why I love being an entrepreneur--it allows me to do what I need to for myself, my family, my dog and of course, my business which gets the lion’s share of me daily. Find the right mate and try not to feel guilty about missing soccer games...

Why is Boston the perfect place to house your distillery?

First of all, I’m born and raised in the area of which I am very proud of.  Boston is the center of education for the world. Boston Harbor Distillery prides itself on being at the forefront of education for distilled spirits, with a special emphasis on whiskey. Although Bostonians are tough to break through to initially, when you finally do you have a friend and supporter for life.

You were the first woman to make a name for yourself in the U.S. beer industry. AMAZING! What was that like? How has the role of women changed/not changed in the industry over the years?

I received an award from the Brewer’s Association of America for being the pioneering woman in the beer industry! It’s hard to believe, though there were not any women selling beer or spirits in the early 80’s. Frankly, it was difficult to be taken seriously at first. Though I just worked harder than anyone else and got the recognition I deserved. I really enjoyed going to conventions--me and 1200 men made it easy to stand out!

What is next for Boston Harbor Distillery?

Although BHD just opened in June, we are already making excellent expressions of whiskey, specialty spirits and liqueurs. In addition to our current line up of Putnam New England Rye Whiskey, Seymour’s Coffee & Boston Cream Liqueurs and Lawley’s New England Spirit, we will be launching in November & December our Putnam New England Single Malt and the Spirit of Boston, a multi-layered whiskey made from various Samuel Adams beer varieties--killer!

THE FUN STUFF

Favorite Meal in Boston: Crudo at Neptune Oyster

Favorite whiskey/spirit/cocktail: Old Fashioned made w/ Putnam New England Rye Whiskey, maple simple syrup, orange and blackstrap bitters or just whiskey with a few cubes

Coffee or tea: Tea (though I love coffee--it doesn’t love me as much)

Favorite workout:  Walking my dog

Currently reading: The Boston Globe (still a newspaper fan) and dozens of magazines -- The Economist, Vanity Fair, Distiller, Beer Advocate are among my favorites!