“The Queen of Beers” No More: The Rise and Fall of Rhonda Kallman in the Beer Industry, and Why Her Next Round Is Something Stronger
“It’s beer. It’s supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
In a recent interview, a Senior Brewmaster from the Samuel Adams Brewery used those exact words to describe the motivation that propelled him to leave Sam Adams and take his talents, and his tap, to another startup microbrew.
Who taught him that valuable lesson?
Over thirty years ago, Rhonda Kallman decided to have some fun by co-founding, along with Jim Koch, the Boston Brewing Company. While the company name may not be familiar, its signature product just might be: Sam Adams Lager. Since its inception, Sam Adams has emerged as one of the leading microbrews in the world, and, along with Yuengling, one of the top-selling American-owned beers in circulation today.
In 2001, Kallman decided to have some more fun. Having spent 14 years as an executive at Boston Brewing, primarily as VP of Sales, Rhonda took some time off to focus on her family and her priorities. But it wasn’t long before the beer industry came calling again, this time in the form of Joseph Owades. Owades, the inventor of Miller Lite Beer (the FIRST low-calorie beer), reached out to Kallman to help him reinvent light beer, and thus, a new company (New Century Brewing) and a new beer (Edison Light) were born. Despite the unfortunate launch date of September 10, 2001, the beer had actually enjoyed a great deal of success in many important markets.
For Kallman, her fun in the beer industry came to an abrupt end in 2011, thanks to another signature New Century Brewing release, Moonshot. Moonshot was one of the first beers to enter the niche of “energy beers”, as it featured an infusion of caffeine in its mixture. While the innovation was well received by the marketplace, New Century Brewing was once again a victim of unfortunate timing, as the Food and Drug Administration began cracking down on caffeinated brews, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the most notorious of these beverages, Four Loko. Despite containing significantly less alcohol, and being targeted to an older demographic, Moonshot itself was a target of the FDA, and New Century Brewing had no choice but to shut its doors.
But like any good entrepreneur, Kallman didn’t stay down for long, and this month marks the launch of her newest startup, Boston Harbor Distillery. Leaving beer for something with a little more kick (namely, whiskey) is a new challenge for Kallman, one she is meeting with eager anticipation. Here, she talks with Raja about her story, what drives her to keep going, and her plans for the future.