A Look Back at Thirst Boston 2018

Thirst broadens its scope as Boston’s cocktail community grows and diversifies.

As Thirst closes the book on its fifth year, here’s a look back at the 2018 edition of Boston’s premier cocktail festival.


Thirst continues to impress with its breadth of seminar topics, from fundamental classes on understanding and appreciating spirits to a certification course on sherry.

As with past years, the 2018 edition scoured the globe for presenters and topics, with a seminar on single grain whiskies from India and a visit from Geraldine Kavanagh, who forages botanicals in Ireland for Glendalough Distillery’s gin.


The Business of Booze

But this year Thirst took a deeper than usual dive into triumphs and challenges experienced by local distillers. A roundtable with Chris Weld, founder and owner of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, offered a fascinating look behind the curtain of the booze industry in Massachusetts.

Building a distillery and making a quality spirit is challenging enough, but to hear Chris talk about the realities of alcohol sales and regulation, it’s a wonder that any small-batch products ever see the light of day.


Not that it was a griping session – Chris seems as enthusiastic as ever about his spirits and his business, and he spoke at length about the advantages of being a small outfit, such as the freedom to tinker with the products. The recipe for BMD’s Ethereal gin, for example, changes with every batch. Not the sort of thing you’d see from a huge liquor corporation.


In a similar vein, the leaders of Boston’s three distilleries talked about the complexities of making booze in an urban setting. Will Willis of Bully Boy Distillers, Matt Nuernberger of GrandTen Distilling, and Rhonda Kallman of Boston Harbor Distillery are competitors in that they’re all angling for shelf space in bars and liquor stores.


But much of their success hinges on cooperation. With craft spirits accounting for a small fraction of national liquor sales, local distillers need to have a collective voice that can advocate for small liquor businesses. The three businesses are continually supportive of one another, and talked about the possibility of promoting a Boston distillery trail in the future.

The Drinking of Booze

Bitter by Design, meanwhile, offered a look at amaro styles from around the world. I was excited to get acquainted with Italicus, a bergamot-forward white amaro made with rose petals, and to try Manifest, a brand new amaro from Jägermeister.


But the class that elicited the biggest reaction from people whenever I mentioned it was Blue Draanks: How to Turn Heads and Make Friends.

I took this class because as someone who spends a fair amount of time making, drinking, and photographing cocktails, blue drinks present something of a dilemma. The blue hue is striking, and it garners some oohs and ahhs from your guests. At the same time, most people (myself included) see a blue drink and immediately assume it’s a sickly sweet concoction and a prelude to a hangover.


Blue Draanks demystified blue curacao and proved that while its color is not a natural one for cocktails, it can brighten up a drink without compromising its flavor. 


Then we were tasked with coming up with our own blue drinks, and I was thankful that my partner was actually a bartender. I have no idea what I would have created, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have looked as good as this.



A sense of spectacle bookended this year’s seminars. On Friday night, Explorateur played host to a sneak peek of Camden Cocktail Lounge, a bar opening at The Palms in Las Vegas this year. The visiting bartenders whipped up over-the-top cocktails with nitro-muddled herbs, jalapeño cotton candy, and crazy garnishes.


Saturday night’s State Lines was set up as an urban state fair, with attendees competing at all manner of carnival games while sampling the wares of dozens of local and national brands.


Closing things out in epic fashion on Sunday was the notorious Blender Bender, where bartenders team up, get into costume, and compete for blended cocktail supremacy.


The theme this year was “Blenderdome,” a nod to the immortal third installment of the original Mad Max trilogy. Taking home the prize was Team Fox Force Five – Jacki Schromm, Kayla Quigley, and Clairessa Chaput – for their We Will Cuttle You cocktail: Leblon cachaça, cucumber, coconut, lime, and cuttlefish ink.


Unsurprisingly, Monday morning arrived with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. But as I combed through my photos of the weekend, I found it hard not to get excited about next year. Below are a few more images from two days’ worth of education and celebration.


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