Rhonda Kallman, cofounder in 1984 of Boston Beer Co., is a craft-beer legend, and a pioneer in an industry that now seems to have unlimited potential. Her new venture, Boston Harbor Distillery, is now part of a movement trying to do for craft spirits what Samuel Adams did all those years ago for beer.
“Thirty years ago, when we started Sam Adams, people didn’t realize how beer was made, what the ingredients were,” says Kallman. “And that’s kind of what I’m seeing that’s going on here. People are a little confused.” You can make whiskey from corn or from rye, but you can also make it from beer, as Boston Harbor Distillery is doing.
In Dorchester, just off the Expressway, the staff walks visitors through samples of whiskey and other spirits in a cavernous old ship-building space opened in June. Standing behind the bar, distillery cofounder Corey Bunnewith pours a small sample of whiskey and sticks his nose deep into the glass. It’s the first of three whiskies brewed from limited-run Samuel Adams beers. This one is distilled from Thirteenth Hour, a dark, sour, Belgian-inspired, barrel-aged load of a brew. “I like to start with this one,” says Bunnewith, eschewing the light-to-dark convention of typical tastings because each of the three whiskies is a little unusual.
The whiskey retains much of the roasted character of the beer, but it’s not a perfect comp. It has the most “traditional” whiskey flavor of the three, slightly smoky, but very smooth.
The second whiskey, distilled from Samuel Adams’ New World Tripel, is the strangest. “It’s sweet, savory, vegetal,” says Bunnewith. It’s unlike any whiskey I’ve ever had, and not especially enjoyable.
The last is a treat. Distilled from Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, it’s a holiday-spiced liquor without the cloying aftertaste of spiced latte. “It comes off with this beautiful sweetness, almost like a spiced rum,” says Bunnewith. “What I’m so excited about is we haven’t adulterated the beer in any way. We didn’t add anything. We didn’t subtract anything.” The whiskies taste like different versions of the beers, not toned-down ones.
Whiskies cost $40 (three bottles in a gift set are $120). Being a new company without the ability to put out long-aged products, the distillery has to be creative. “We know we have to put out young whiskey,” says Bunnewith. “The most effective way to do that is to increase the mash character.” In other words, start the distilling process with something more flavorful.
Kallman says she’s energized, but sees a key difference in what she’s doing now compared to what she did with Samuel Adams. “I was a lot younger,” she says, laughing.
Boston Harbor Distillery, 12R Ericsson St., Dorchester, 617-533-7001, bostonharbordistillery.com