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EO 360°, a podcast by Entrepreneurs’ Organization, explores entrepreneurship with a wide perspective, moving beyond business to those insights not often shared by high-profile thought leaders.

Host and serial entrepreneur, Dave Will, leads in-depth interviews, whose featured guests include: Gazelles founder and CEO, Verne Harnish; popular podcast host and founder of Genius Network, Joe Polish; award-winning entrepreneur, Zahra Al-Harazi; and more. Tune into this top podcast made by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

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Jan 23, 2018

Rhonda Kallman, owner and CEO of Boston Harbor Distillery and founding partner of The Boston Beer Company is a serial entrepreneur, consultant, and public speaker who has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15. Today on the EO Podcast, Rhonda dives into what it was like sharing an office with former partner and dirty jokester Jim Koch, her 10 year “doom loop,” and how she finally found her passion producing “liquid gold.” Tune-in to learn how Rhonda handled her business’s needs while in labor, when she discovered that she had breast cancer, and even during an FDA inquiry. Find out how, despite these challenges, Rhonda’s drive led her to a new decade full of success, community, support, and (of course) good whiskey!

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:57 – Rhonda is from Boston and co-founder of Sam Adams (Boston Beer), that was turned from a craft beer to a $2 Billion business, she was dubbed “The Queen of Beer”
  • 01:35 – She now has opened Boston Harbor Distillery, which offers an artisanal experience for the consumer
  • 01:50 – She has worked in bars since she was 15, her first job was at the Heifer Pub and she loved it; she encourages her 3 teenagers to also work in the restaurant business to get great life-skills
  • 03:04 – At the Heifer Pub she waitressed, bussed, and did whatever she was asked to do
  • 03:15 – She ended up in Boston working with a guy every Saturday selling cheesy artwork; she always loved working with people and the restaurant business
  • 04:10 – Her father worked at Chamberlin Junior College (no longer exists) as a controller, her mother was a telephone operator at the same college
  • 04:45 – She got her associates in Secretarial Science in 1980 from North Shore Community College and it really set her up for success in today’s world; she’ll now be giving a commencement speech there
  • 06:30 – She met Jim Koch (her partner) at the Boston Consulting Group; he was one of 7 executives that she assisted
  • 07:20 – She got into BCG when she went to a recruiter and they linked her to BCG
  • 08:13 – She loved it; everyone was brilliant, there was international influence, and she learned so much from smart people
  • 09:04 – Rhonda’s mentor relationships: Sandy Moose gets a group together every year
  • 09:50 – Jim Koch’s book “Quench your own Thirst”
  • 10:07 – Jim has 3 Harvard degrees, was at the top of his game at BCG, was travelling all the time, and decided to start a brewery
  • 12:20 – He knew about beer and business and asked if she could help spread the word
  • 13:14 – Rhonda’s take on Jim’s book
  • 13:18 – It was an easy read, witty, they have a great relationship, they made a terrific team, she was surprised by how often she was mentioned in the book, and it was about 90% accurate
  • 14:34 – Rhonda and Jim shared an office until they day she left the company; they were so opposite that it worked, they really trusted each other
  • 15:09 – The emotion that comes to mind when she thinks back to their beginnings
  • 15:35 – Everything was fun and exciting, she learned so much and was up for the challenge
  • 15:56 – She was trying to sell Boston beer made in Pittsburgh; Jim saw that there was unused production space since regional beers were going downhill and nationals were taking over
  • 16:31 – They wanted to prove the model before investing in a brick and mortar in Boston; the craft movement started north of San Francisco
  • 17:06 – They turned their headquarters into a brewery, but first they produced the beer elsewhere and drove it to the location (normally she would drive the truck)
  • 17:55 – She delivered the beer and would go back and promote it at bars
  • 18:43 – She’s in start-up mode again in the beverage industry
  • 19:08 – Back in the 80s there were fewer than 100 craft brews, now there are well over 5,000
  • 19:45 – Rhonda’s take on The Alchemist founder John Kimmich and brand: He’s true to his craft, was in the right place at the right time, created a cult following, and managed it well
  • 21:35 – Jim moved out of his role and brought someone else in; this was around the time that she left
  • 22:11 – She and Martin didn’t see eye to eye; when she left she sold all of her founder shares, which is her one regret in life
  • 22:10 – The best thing she did for herself was leave the company
  • 23:21 – She never thought she’d start another beer company, but she was inspired by Jim’s brewing consultant (Dr. Joseph Owades)
  • 24:04 – She had known Joe for years, and he offered to make a beer if she makes the company; she didn’t want to compete with Sam Adams and the other great beers
  • 25:15 – She found that there wasn’t a craft alternative to Bud, Miller, Coors, or Corona; she decided that she wanted a light beer
  • 25:49 – New Century Brewing Company was created, and the beer was called Edison; it was made from scratch to be light, not watered down
  • 26:15 – She launched it on the eve of 9/11 and that started her 10-year “doom loop”
  • 26:35 – She ran into a lawsuit from the Edison family which ultimately led her to close down the business
  • 27:00 – She incorporated New Century Brewing company while literally on the way to the hospital to deliver her 3rd child
  • 27:38 – The capital markets were a mess during that time; she spent $70,000 fighting for the Edison name
  • 28:30 – She discovered that she had stage 3 breast cancer and that she needed a mastectomy
  • 29:11 – She created the first ever premium beer with caffeine, Moonshot; they patented the process of adding caffeine to ale
  • 29:50 – Dr. Owades was dying and referred her to someone else who used their patent to make Four Loco and Panther Juice drinks
  • 31:03 – The FDA banned those 2 companies and hers because they were using her patent
  • 31:55 – Her eldest brother passed away suddenly during this “doom loop” time as well
  • 32:25 – In 2012 Rhonda raised $2 Million to kick off Boston Harbor Distillery
  • 32:48 – Origins of Boston Harbor Distillery and why Rhonda made the switch to whiskey
  • 33:00 – When the FDA started their inquiry, no one came to her support and she lost heart in the beer industry
  • 33:55 – She was always a whiskey drinker; to her, whiskey is the evolution of beer
  • 34:35 – Whiskey as the next emerging category
  • 34:53 – Spirits have been stealing share from beer for the last couple of decades; beer is flat (no growth) except in craft, which has slowed substantially
  • 35:25 – Whiskey is picking up that consumption; Putnam whiskey (rye and single-malt) is like beer (grain-forward)
  • 36:30 – Putnam whiskey offers a grain taste that give a spicy smoothness
  • 37:03 – They distill 5 varieties of Sam Adams beer twice, make their cuts, lay it in used barrels, and get the amplified flavors of the beer in their whiskey (230 gallons of whiskey from 3,000 gallons of beer)
  • 38:10 – They call it the “Spirit of Boston”
  • 38:30 – Jim is personally supportive, but they don’t spend too much time together
  • 38:55 – She now has a coffee liquor that has more caffeine and alcohol than Moonshot ever did; this is a much better decade than the last
  • 39:28 – Rhonda’s vision: She wants to be both locally revered and nationally acclaimed; she believes the two don’t need to be exclusive
  • 39:45 – The beauty of whiskey is that it stays good for a long time and can go anywhere
  • 40:23 – She is focused on being part of the community; they are in a beautiful historical building that has history
  • 40:55 – They have to go through lots of hoops just to get to the consumer; in the 1980s it was easy to get through, today is so different because you can get anything anywhere
  • 41:55 – You have to believe that what is inside the bottle is better than anything else you can get
  • 42:38 – Rhonda feels like she’s been training for this role for her entire life and she’s found her passion in whiskey
  • 43:05 – She’s had a decades-old love affair with alcohol; she loves the complexity, layering, flavors, how it’s made, the ingredients, how it tastes, and its effects
  • 43:25 – At her core, she’s an entrepreneur; she believes in herself and her abilities enough to take the risk
  • 44:20 – Her journey from secretary to executive of a billion dollar company (and as a woman)
  • 44:36 – It’s lonely and hard; she feels like if she was a part of the “boy’s club” she’d be a lot further ahead
  • 45:03 – This year was the first time that she felt an emerging support system for female entrepreneurs so she’s excited for the future and what it looks like for women
  • 45:40 – EO support system for women; Rhonda would a great mentor, inspiration, and role model for women
  • 46:50 – What drives Rhonda to prove herself; what’s broken that makes her want to keep getting up
  • 47:45 – She believes in herself and doesn’t have financial freedom so she has to work and figures she should in an industry she knows
  • 48:00 – Her grandparents were immigrants that came with nothing and were survivors; she believes that burning sensation to succeed is in her DNA
  • 48:50 – How to try Putnam Whiskey and Rhonda’s other products: Go on their website or visit their distillery in Boston

Key Points:



  1. Don’t let challenges stop you from moving forward and pursuing your dreams.
  2. Believing in your product and it’s quality will make you stand out in a time where the consumer can get anything anywhere.
  3. Know yourself and your abilities and use your passion to fuel your mission.

Resources Mentioned: