One part education, one part innovation: shake over ice and you’ve got Thirst Boston. The city’s premier cocktail conference is back for its fifth year with a fresh line-up of seminars, tastings, pop-ups and after-parties. Starting Friday, April 27th, locals and visitors can get spirited away at the Boston Center for Adult Education with festival offerings well-suited to the casual sipper and the snifter-sniffer alike.
Thanks to the hard work of founder Maureen Hautaniemi and Nick Korn, Thirst has become a regular in the Boston beverage scene, and beyond. The three-day schedule is packed with classes for industry experts (ice-carving, anyone?) and eager enthusiasts (like a cognac 101 course), with plenty of time factored in for sipping and socializing. Seminar topics range from categorical explorations of underrepresented spirits – this year, vodka gets its due – to special interest pieces, like women-influenced cocktail history or an in-depth dive into blue drinks. Course leaders are a who’s-who of local bartenders, spirit producers and, at least for this go-round, filmmakers. Special guest Steven Soderbergh, of Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and Magic Mike fame, will present his short film on the Bolivian spirit Singani.
Keeping the agenda so well-stocked takes more like a little doing. “We use a lot of Post-Its. And a lot of Google Docs. I am currently looking at somewhere between 10 and 15 active Post-it notes right now,” says Hautaniemi. “Cocktail festivals are really difficult. They’re hard to put on; they’re incredibly complicated; they’re misunderstood by the public. Now it’s just finally like we have explained ourselves to Boston so that some people know what’s going on. It’s been really beneficial building the brand and now we have the momentum.”
Thirst Boston is the “seasonal brand” of year-round beverage catering and events company Offsite and the team has continued to grow with the city’s, well, thirst for happenings. “Each year we gain more capacity to add new things to Thirst and it’s nice to see us continually innovate instead of just keeping it safe and simple,” says Hautaniemi. This year, the group has instituted Cocktail Bingo in the lead-up to the festival. Interested imbibers can mark off the squares of participating spirits purveyors with drinks from local watering holes, then bring their card to the BCAE for a chance at a $500 cash prize. Sunday night’s Blender Bender, which traditionally caps off the festivities, gets a 2018 revamp as the BLENDERDOME, with twelve teams competing in a post-apocalyptic-themed, winner-takes-all battle of frozen, boozy goodness.
With so much shaking (and stirring) in Boston, other cities were bound to step up to the bar. For the first year, Hautaniemi has noted more than a few folks joining from outside of New England, independent of being personally invited. As the conference hits its five-year milestone, it’s hardly strained, and last call still seems like a distant horizon. Says Hautaniemi, “My belief has always been that if we make something really great for Boston and New England, it will get attention that it might deserve on a national scale, if it’s warranted. I do think that people are looking at Thirst as one of the bigger cocktail festivals in the country which is both weird and exciting at the same time.”
You can pull up a barstool, metaphorically speaking, Friday, April 27th through Sunday, April 29th at any number of the knowledge-quenching events. Take a look at the list and snag your tickets for some very happy hours.