Cocktails, Community, and Collaboration: A Preview of Thirst Boston 2017

As Thirst Boston prepares to kick off its annual weekend of drinking and learning, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how an event that began as an industry experiment has blossomed into a highly anticipated regional ritual.

The cocktail scene in Boston was certainly booming in 2013, but Thirst co-founder Maureen Hautaniemi characterized the attendees of the inaugural conference as “a bunch of my friends and people in the drinking culture.”

Four years later, Thirst attracts a host of local and national industry professionals – bartenders, brand ambassadors, craft distillers, and entrepreneurs – along with home bartenders and exuberant drink lovers.

On the agenda is a program of about 50 educational seminars and events, including pop-up bars, walking tours, and classes on everything from understanding mezcal to making boozy pastries.

Growing Community

The conference’s growth is largely attributable to Boston’s ever-expanding community of cocktail enthusiasts.

“I think there’s a huge appetite among the community in Boston for education and for learning,” Hautaniemi says. “Going to bars and drinking cocktails is super fun, but it’s not just about throwing back a couple of drinks. It can certainly be educational. It can be elevated to the point of study, and you can really take an in-depth dive on your favorite cocktails and spirits.”

Thirst also provides a platform for industry professionals to showcase their skills and share knowledge with their peers. Hands-on seminars devoted to ice-carving techniques, cocktail showmanship, and tips on winning cocktail competitions are geared toward bartenders looking to take their game to the next level.

Which is not to say that such niche topics won’t appeal to non-industry folk. “One of the beautiful things about cocktail festivals is that they do have an interesting mix of a group,” Hautaniemi observes. “In terms of education, we’re highlighting our collaborative events and trying to engage the whole community.”

Regional Celebration

And nowhere is that sense of community more conspicuous than with State Lines, a gathering of distillers, brewers, and bartenders from throughout New England (including New York, an honorary New England state for one night only). Guests can sample craft spirits from Vermont’s Mad River Distillers, Maine’s Wiggly Bridge Distillery, and many more, and drink cocktails made by bartenders from six states.

State Lines has become something of a signature event at Thirst, but it’s always been a centrally located, on-site pop-up bar that attendees would wander into and out of in between seminars. This year it’s a stand-alone, nighttime event held in the Innovation District.

For Hautaniemi, State Lines is finally morphing into the event she envisioned back during the earliest days of Thirst.

“State Lines is really trying to create a community atmosphere and getting people together to talk about collaboration throughout the different states,” she says. “We can highlight that Boston is a part of a greater New England community that’s doing really great and cool things instead of just doubling down and honing in on Boston as an insular market.”

Thirst Boston kicks off with a Friday night cocktail party that serves as a prelude to two days’ worth of seminars and events. For the full schedule, locations, and ticket info, click here.

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