A cocktail festival?
What, you might wonder, in the world is a cocktail festival?
I’m glad you asked…
Thirst Boston is a weekend dedicated to all things drinks and a celebration of this city’s ever-growing role in the craft cocktail and bar community. With seminars, craft classes (ice sculpting, anyone?), tasting rooms, pop-up bars, the infamous Blender Bender blended cocktail competition, and after-parties (so many after-parties), this weekend is the time to let your inner cocktail geek/booze aficionado/burgeoning bartender out to play.
“If you like drinking and cocktails, there is something at Thirst for you,” festival co-founder Maureen Hautaniemi said. “We have a bunch of classes who are meant for people getting into the world of craft cocktails maybe for the first time, who want to taste things side by side, who want to learn to make drinks.”
Hautaniemi continued: “We also have a number of classes for working bartenders and hospitality industry professionals, things that will advance their knowledge from what they can get at premeal and brand trainings.”
What do some of these classes look like?
There’s the House of Lustau Certified Sherry Wine Specialist Course, where you can learn about all things sherry; there’s Taste Like a Pro with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, whose sommeliers and spirit professionals will walk you through the steps of tasting different spirits and wines (and let you try out saying things like nose and tannins in a safe setting surrounded by friends).
There’s also local cocktail legend Brother Cleve’s Let’s Have a Tiki, a hands-on drinks-building class, and the Botanical Gin Lab, where local ambassador Bill Codman will get into the nitty-gritty of the botanical mixes behind popular gin styles. That’s where you will get to make your own botanical mix and gin.
If you’re in the industry, pray for an early cut this weekend; if you’ve never worked in a restaurant but always wanted to party like a bartender, now’s your chance.
Thirst Boston Presents: State Lines
Saturday, April 28, 6-10pm; Innovation Design Center
New England’s best bartenders link up for an urban state fair extravaganza, complete with carnival games, swag giveaways, delicious bites, and sips from local breweries, cideries, distillers, and craft boutiques. Beginning with a Bubbles and Bivalves VIP hour at 6 pm, guests will celebrate all things sparkling wine paired with local oysters. Doors open at 7 pm to all ticket holders, and the games will begin! Tickets are $25-$45 and include samplings and one cocktail. Additional beverages and food will be available for purchase, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit charity.
The Blender Bender: BLENDERDOME
Sunday, April 29, 8-11pm; Whiskey Saigon
The long-awaited annual Blender Bender returns once again! This year, 12 bartending teams are thrown into the ring to battle it out in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic blended drink competition. Possibly one of the hottest parties of the year, attendees and bartenders alike don their best themed costume, sample contending concoctions, and vote for the ultimate champion, capping it off with an epic dance party. Tickets are $65 and include samples of competition beverages and snacks. Beer available for purchase with proceeds donated to charity.
Audubon (838 Beacon St., Boston) will host the Brockmans gin-sponsored event Saturday night, and Gather (75 Northern Ave., Boston) will be throwing an ’80s arcade game and dance party sponsored by Fernet (games provided by Bitbar) after the Blenderdome showdown at Whiskey Saigon. (There are two after-parties Friday night, as well, because #Friday: Las Vegas’ the Palms’ Camden Cocktail Lounge will be popping up at Explorateur on Tremont, and Four Roses bourbon will be throwing down at JM Curley’s on Temple Place).
THE BEST PART
While all of this is super exciting, what’s perhaps most engaging and inspiring about Thirst is what the festival is doing for Boston’s bar community.
“For a long time, Boston lived in the shadow of New York,” Hautaniemi said. “Since Thirst started five years ago, we’re taken very seriously as a market all on our own. Boston is its own place, own location, has its own dedicated brand ambassadors. We’re not the suburbs of Manhattan.”
To celebrate that distinction, and throw a hand up for New England pride, every course, class, seminar, every bit of content brought to Thirst has a New England element to it.
“All of our classes are either always brand new or revamped,” Hautaniemi said. “All of our content is new; we work really hard with brands to make sure they aren’t just doing the same thing they do at other festivals. We want them to bring something new and specific for the Boston market.”
Whether that’s including a regional spirit in Thirst’s categorical tastings, pairing a California-based ambassador with a local bartender to host a seminar, or sending the 10 elite bartenders from all over the country who were accepted into the Thirst Scholars program to a local distillery (Grand Ten) to make rum at the end of the weekend, Boston and New England are at the core of what Thirst stands for.
“The cocktail industry was always doing really cool stuff in Boston,” Hautaniemi said. “If you live here you know it, if you work here you know it.
“Now everyone else knows it, too.”
Thirst kicks off Fri 4.27. All classes are held at the Boston Center for Adult Education (122 Arlington St., Boston). A full list of classes, the festival schedule, and tickets can be found at thirstboston.com.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.