All roads led to Dorchester for Rhonda Kallman.
The founder of Boston Harbor Distillery, a just-opened craft distillery in Port Norfolk, Kallman is not from the neighborhood. But she has family ties to the area and sees the distillery and its historic building in the Port as the perfect canvas for her first go at craft distilling.
“For years, people were driving by on the Expressway, not necessarily having a destination on Port Norfolk, if you will,” Kallman explains. “But at one time, it was the center of commerce for the city of Boston and played an important role in the history of building America. It has that sense of place and authenticity.”
Three years ago, Kallman and her business partners discovered the building on the port, next to Boston Winery and Venezia Restaurant.
“When I walked in for the first time, even though it was boarded up, I could feel it,” Kallman told the Reporter in a recent interview. “It was the foundation. It was something there.”
Kallman, the co-founder of Sam Adams-producing Boston Beer Company, sees the distillery as a place that takes both her and the building full-circle. Before Boston Harbor Distillery came to call the building home, three distinct things were produced under the ship-like roof. Those three products are all manifested in Boston Harbor’s three spirits currently for sale.
The first, Putnam’s New England Whiskey, is a nod to Silas Putnam, who built Port Norfolk and used the current distillery building as the home for his automated horseshoe nail–which was contracted out and supplied out to both the north and south during the Civil War.
After Putnam went out of business, the building became a shipyard for George Lawley and Son’s American Clipper ships, which were famous for winning the America’s Cup sailing competition. During both World Wars, Lawley and Sons built ships for the United States, including America’s first airship in 1916. That history gave rise to Lawley’s New England Spirit, which Kallman calls Boston Harbor’s “rip on rum.”
“It’s fermented and then distilled (with) molasses and maple syrup. We think maple syrup was the original sugar source for rum, so we call it New England Spirit.”
Like rum, Lawley’s New England Spirit comes in white and dark, “And they’re delicious,” Kallman added.
The third spirit currently available at Boston Harbor Distillery is named in honor of its final entrepreneur who called the building home before it sat vacant for 30 years: Seymour’s Ice Cream. Seymours gives rise to Seymour’s Local Roast Coffee Liqueur, a rye spirit featuring cold brewed coffee extract from Barrington Coffee Roasters in Boston and maple syrup from a local supplier in Vermont. It is also the same syrup used in the New England Spirit.
This fall, Kallman said Boston Harbor hopes to roll out a Boston Cream Liqueur using maple rum cream under the same Seymour’s banner.
While the distillery is an homage to the businesses that came before it, the business itself closes a circle for Kallman, who got her start in the beer business. “What’s lovely for me is that it comes full circle. Whiskey starts off as beer,” Kallman said with a laugh.
Kallman and her team are working to distribute Boston Harbor Distillery’s products to local restaurants, which Kallman said she hopes includes high-end Dorchester watering holes like Ester and Venezia and Milton’s Steel and Rye. For now, those interested in a taste can take advantage of the tours and tastings available at the distillery, which for $10 gives visitors samples of each spirit and a mixed drink served from the bar inside the distillery. Bottles can also be purchased at the 12R Ericcson Street location. The distillery also features a fully stocked humidor, with cigars to purchase and enjoy while lingering outside the building after a tasting wraps up.
In three weeks or so since Boston Harbor Distillery has opened, Kallman said many of those who have toured so far are Port Norfolk residents, who have wandered in while on walks with pets around the adjacent Harborwalk. Those who have taken a peek like what they see, Kallman said.
“We know the hIstory of where we are the significance of where we are and we really incorporate that into every bottle,” Kallman said. “Everything that’s good comes from a place that is good. I think the people of Dorchester and Boston are going to be pretty proud of this place.”