In ten days, the Hotel Commonwealth will host the first annual Thirst Boston — a three-day convention for both enthusiasts and professionals, created by four local cocktail scene veterans. Eater spoke with three of them: Andrew Deitz works for liquor distributor MS Walker as an on-premise consultant throughout Massachusetts, designing beverage programs. Brandy Rand has spent 15 years in spirits writing, is a noted trade journalist, and works with emerging brands like Berkshire Mountain Distillers. TJ Connelly is "the guy from onthebar," the bartender-locating app (oh, and he's a little busy with his other job this week). The fourth founder, Maureen Hautaniemi, is an organizer of professional cocktail events and was therefore at Portland Cocktail Week when this interview was conducted. The three founders explain what to expect at Thirst, announce which popular bar has decided to close rather than make any of their bartenders miss the weekend, and ponder their roles in last year's closing of Locke-Ober.
What is the point of Thirst Boston?
Rand: We felt it was time to get the best of the best together to celebrate Boston's amazing cocktail culture. Looking at other cocktail events, like Tales of the Cocktail and Portland Cocktail Week, we also decided to make this a little bit broader with the beverage focus. People who are into nice cocktails are also into good coffee and craft beer. That's why it's called "Thirst" and not "Boston Cocktail Week" — because we want to involve the art of drinking well across the board.
Connelly: It's exciting to be able to create a showcase of our cocktail scene and all the people who are doing the work to make the city as impressive as it is from a beverage standpoint.
Rand: It's for consumers and trade members. We expect there will be a lot of people who frequent the bars — not just the ones who work there — who will be coming to these seminars. We curated the seminars to make sure the subjects are interesting for people, whether they're bartenders or home cocktail connoisseurs.
Any particular seminars you'd like to highlight?
Connelly: It's really a general menu. There are things for novices who are getting started, and then there are deep cuts for people who are interested.
Rand: One to note is A New World of Beer Brewing in New England from Pilgrims to Present. This is with Lauren Clark, the blogger known as Drink Boston who wrote about cocktails when there were only a handful of places. She's been working on a book about the history of beer in New England and will be moderating a panel between Narragansett, Notch, and Pretty Things.
Boston Cocktails: Past, Present, and Future is with Jackson Cannon, John Gertsen, and Josh Childs. Everything from the Cocoanut Grove fire, to the red light district, to the creation of the Ward 8 cocktail at Locke-Ober.
Deitz: A very important part of what Thirst is is celebrating our history and where we are and where we're going. That's really highlighted in that seminar.
Rand: Not everyone is from Boston. Juan Coronado is Jose Andres's beverage coordinator. He's doing a cocktail lab including fermented cocktails and molecular mixology.
There are some larger events, too. The Thing is an industry party that has become legendary already after you first held one in Locke-Ober mere days before it suddenly closed.
Deitz: It's good to hear that — we had a lot of fun putting it on. A great little classy blowout.
You're not going to shut down any additional legends like you did last year with Locke-Ober?
Connelly (laughing loudly): It would be amazing. It would be incredible to manage to close the Harvard Club. "I know you guys have been around longer than the state itself, but here we come."
Deitz: We are capturing a lot of what we did last year, highlighting a grand old Boston space with some grand old Boston bartenders.
What can someone expect to spend?
Rand: Seminars are $20 each. We have two three-hour events that are hands on mixology workshops for $30. Our evening events like the Blender Bender are $50; The Thing is $75. We have a day pass that for $135 gets you into all seminars and events for the day.
If you buy tickets to any event, you get access to what we call the Thirst Lounge. It will have a popup store from the Boston Shaker and rotating sponsored bars. We have a hall of non-alcoholic liquids too: waters, mixers, coffee companies. There are craft brewing tables, and you can wander around all the tasting suites.
Deitz: Through all these events, we're feeding you, too.
Rand: The Blender Bender is one really fun event. A 1980s tiki-style event where we have 12 bartenders from all the great bars around town who are competing with those crazy-powerful Vitamix blenders. I asked them for an extra one in case it breaks, and they said, "These don't break."
As I walked in, you were figuring out how much ice you need. What's the logistical planning been like?
Connelly: You really want to know how we make the sausage?
Brandy: We're huge fans of Google Docs and we live by Excel spreadsheets. We have a great team of co-captains from the likes of Eastern Standard and Drink — people who are all involved in the bartending community. It's not just the four of us who are involved in the event. We have a team of more than twenty who are making this happen.
Deitz: And we have a huge team of volunteers, too — more than 80. People around town have embraced this with open arms.
Rand: You don't want to be anywhere else drinking in Boston that weekend. If you don't buy a ticket to this event you probably won't find your favorite bartender, because they'll be here.
Connelly: Actually, Backbar is closing down for the whole event. People of Somerville: come to the hotel!
One last question: It's hard to find actual fans of the Ward 8. Is that something you actually like?
Connelly: This is you, Deitz. This is your fault, and you have to answer this question.
Deitz (pauses, collecting thoughts): It's a challenging drink, let's say. It was probably invented by some guys who were over-served, sitting at the bar and putting together what was around at the time. We have worked on this drink and think we've finally put it into proportions ...
Rand: Fernet chaser!
Deitz: ... that are historically accurate as well as delicious. It will be at The Thing whether you like it or not.
· Thirst Boston [Official site]
· All coverage of Cocktail Week on Eater [~EBOS~]