Monday, May 30, 2016

Thirst Boston: New Kids On The Block--Whisky From Unexpected Places

You probably know about Bourbon from Kentucky, Scotch from Scotland, and Irish Whiskey from Ireland. You might even know about the wonderful whiskey now being produced in Japan. However, were you aware, or have you ever tasted, whiskey made in France, England, Taiwan or India?  

At Thirst Boston, you had the opportunity to taste whiskey made in these countries at a fascinating seminar called New Kids On The Block: Whisky From Unexpected Places and its description stated: "These days whiskey means so much more than Scotch and Bourbon. From France to Taiwan, American bartenders and whiskey drinkers are now able to drink delectable brown potations from across the globe whether it be Japanese whisky from a 90 year old distillery or some of the first releases from an English upstart." It was intriguing to be able to taste whiskey from these countries, to obtain a glimpse into the differences they bring to this category.

The presenters at this seminar included: Scott Pugh, VP of Sales & Product Development for Venturi Brands, which owns Vicomte French Whisky; Gardner Dunn, Beam Suntory National Brand Ambassador for Hibiki, Yamazaki and Hakushu Japanese Whiskies; Gregory Fitch of Anchor Distilling representing Kavalan Whisky; and Raj Sabharwal, owner of Purple Valley Imports, sole importer of Amrut Whisky, the only Indian whisky currently in the US, and the English Whisky Company

In 2015, Americans consumed approximately 830 million liters of whiskey, and that amount continues to grow each year. Americans are enamored with whiskey and love exploring the various brands they find on the shelves of their local liquor shops. As they peruse these shelves, they're likely to start seeing whiskey made in countries not commonly know for whiskey production. I'm sure that will intrigue many whiskey lovers though they might not be willing to buy an unknown product. However, I encourage these consumers to expand their palates and try these new whiskies, as these countries are making some damn good whiskey.

From France comes the Vicomte 8 Year Old Single Malt ($40-$45) which is produced by a 3rd generation distillery located in the Cognac region. The distillery once provided bulk product for Cognac but eventually decided to make a product for themselves. They begin with 100% organic barley, grown and harvested in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. The whiskey is distilled twice in copper pot stills before going into French Oak Limousin Barrels for about six months. Then, it is aged for about 8 years in first-fill Cognac barrels.

This was a delicious, easy-drinking whiskey which might remind you of bourbon with its sweet vanilla and caramel notes. There were also some fruity notes, some apricot and citrus, with a touch of chocolate. Silky and smooth, it would be a great introductory whiskey which should appeal to many drinkers. The Vicomte was made to be easy to mix in cocktails and I think it would work well in that regard.

Vicomte started aging their whiskey about 12 years ago so they are planning to release a 12 Year Old whiskey in the near future. This is the second French whiskey I've ever tasted and both pleased me. There are only a handful of French whiskies available in the U.S. and I would recommend you check out the Vicomte.

The Kavalan Single Malt is made in Taiwan and I have previously written about this distillery and several of their whiskies so I encourage you to check out that prior post, Kavalan: Taiwan Whiskey In short, Kavalan is making some amazing whiskies.

During the last hundred years, Japan has made huge strides in the production of whiskey and now win top international awards for their products. Most whiskey lovers will confirm that Japan is making many fantastic whiskies and now they are eagerly sought. I'm a fan of Japanese whiskies and have written about them before such as Nikka Whisky. Suntory Whisky, which makes the Hibiki, Yamazaki and Hakushu brands, is all about innovation. With an assortment of different types of stills, different oaks, different grains, and more, they can produce about 160 different styles of whiskey. That gives them a huge amount of "ingredients" for the art of blending, which is vitally important to them.

Their former Master Blender used to eat the same meal every day, Tempura Udon, to keep his palate neutral. In addition, he didn't smoke and wouldn't eat garlic. That is certainly dedication and discipline. His replacement has been emulating a similar diet for the last nine years, though he's eating Soba instead of Udon. The Master Blender always thinks he can make a better whiskey, continually working toward perfection though he knows he will never reach that ideal. Hibiki is intended to be a "blend of harmony," and the foundation of their Hibiki product line.

The Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($60-$70) is a blend of at least 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged in five different barrel types, including American white oak, Sherry casks, and Mizunara (Japanese oak) barrels. The whiskies also come from three different distilleries, including Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita. I think the Master Blender has accomplished their goal, with a whiskey with a fascinating and harmonious blend of flavors. It is light and on the sweeter side, with notes of honey, caramel, candied fruits and baking spices, though there is also a touch of smokiness and floral accents. It has an intriguing depth of flavors, with a long, pleasing finish. You really need to sample the wonders of Japanese whiskies.

It might surprise you to learn that India is the largest whiskey consumer in the world. Once you understand that fact, then it is easier to understand why they might start producing their own whiskey too. Amrut Distilleries was founded back in 1948 in Bangalore and they initially produced rum, considering that India is also the world's second largest producer of sugarcane. In addition, most of the whiskey produced in India is molasses based, though that is primarily consumed within the country. During the 1970s, they started producing single malts, though only for blended whiskies. However, now at least a couple distilleries have started to bottle single malts on their own.

Amrut makes a number of different single malts, using Indian barley, grown at the base of the Himalayan Mountains, and which is only used for brewing/distillation. They do not use age statements and the intense heat of the region matures their whiskey much quicker than usual. It is said that 1 year of aging in Bangalore is equivalent to about 3 years in Scotland. In addition, and as expected, they lose plenty of whiskey to the angel's share, as much as 15% in a single year.

The Amrut Fusion Single Malt (about $65), which was released in 2011, is a "marriage" of 75% unpeated and 25% peated 100% barley whiskey which is then aged for another six to nine months in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 100 proof. I enjoyed this whiskey too, finding it light bodied with an interesting and complex blend of flavors, including caramel, intense spices, citrus and a touch of smoke. Smooth and easy drinking, this is another whiskey which should appeal to a wide audience. It makes me want to try the rest of the Amrut portfolio.

Finally, we end up in England, with the first and now oldest whiskey distillery in that country, with about 5 whiskey distilleries now in the country.  Established in 2008, the St. George's Distillery is the home of the English Whisky Company, a name change which was necessary for the U.S. market to avoid confusion with a similarly named company. They received initial distillation advice from the legendary Iain Henderson, formerly of Laphroaig, so they started from a strong place.

The English Whiskey Co. Peated Cask Strength ($100-$110), at 60.9% ABV, is made from estate grown barley, was aged for about 4-5 years, and uses peat from the mainland of Scotland rather than the islands. That is a very important difference as the peat lacks the salinity you find from the islands and in addition, the inland peat doesn't express as strongly. The peat level in this whiskey is 55 parts per million (ppm), which is actually higher than Laphroaig at 50ppm. However, the English whiskey tastes much less smoky than the Laphroaig though you wouldn't expect that to be the case. There are notes of bacon fat amidst the mild smokiness, as well as caramel and toffee notes, with mild citrus, nuttiness, and vanilla. A complex and intriguing taste, with a fuller body and a lengthy, satisfying finish.

The main takeaway is that delicious and interesting whiskey is now being made all over the world and you should take the opportunity to try some of these new whiskies. You might just find a new favorite. And as these new countries gain more knowledge and experience, their whiskey will only  evolve and improve. Don't be a whiskey snob and  be willing to expand your palate.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thirst Boston: Mezcal & Beyond

One of the seminars which I most looked forward to at Thirst Boston was Mezcal & Beyond, and its  description stated: "Some version of mezcal--from the Nahuatl word meaning “oven cooked agave”-- is made in every one of the 31 states of Mexico, utilizing a wide range of production techniques and dozens of different species of agave. One of the few distilled spirits to exhibit terroir--a true sense of where it comes from--tasting it easily leads to discussions of history, geography, culture, language, cuisine and politics. Join some of the movers and shakers of today’s mezcal revolution and get a peek into this fascinatingly vast and astoundingly delicious category." The seminar included a tasting component, a chance to taste several intriguing Mezcals, including one which is not even commercially available yet.

The presenters at this seminar included Sergio Mendoza, the creator of the Derrumbes line of Mezcal; Arik Torren, the US importer of Fidencio Mezcal; Misty Kalkofen, Mezcal ambassador for Del Maguey; and Jake Lustig, who has created, owned, distributed, and developed range of Mexican spirits from tequilas to mescals, and represented Mina Real Mezcal. The passion of these individuals for Mezcal was more than evident and we could have spent several hours discussing a wide range of Mezcal-related issues, from NOM 199 to sustainability. They had to rein in some of their excitement, knowing that there was only a limited amount of time for the seminar.

The session began with some basic information about Mezcal, an introduction to this intriguing Mexican spirit (you can learn some basics in one of my recent posts). The discussion then ranged across a variety of topics with a significant discussion involving the effects of the Mezcal Denominación de Origen (DO), mostly concluding that the DO system should evolve and change, with an important goal of protecting people and not just the product. There was a thought that maybe the Mezcal DO was too large and should be changed to cover smaller regions instead, In addition, all of the states which make Mezcal should be included and these smaller DOs should also reflect the regional names for Mezcal.

I'm not sure that would be the best option and think that rather than destroy the existing Mezcal DO, that maybe you could work within its rules. These are only some preliminary ideas which came to mind during this seminar and more thought needs to be dedicated to the concept. Within the wine appellation system, you sometimes find sub-appellations, smaller geographic areas within the larger protected region. Why not apply that concept to Mezcal?

Keeping the larger Mezcal DO, a number of sub-appellations for each of the states within the DO could be created. Those sub-appellations would all be able to call themselves Mezcal, but as a sub-appellation they also could use their own regional name if they possessed one. The Mezcal DO should also be expanded to include many other Mexican states within the DO and not limit themselves to the current 9 or so.

At one point during the seminar, Misty made an interesting comparison, stating that the cooking of agave piñas is similar in some respects to a traditional New England clambake on the beach. That could be an excellent way to explain the tasting process to local people. Misty also stated that the texture of Mezcal is very important to her and that by adding water to it will change that texture. So, she did not advise on adding water to Mezcal as you might do it to a strong whiskey. I've heard others with a country opinion, who suggested you might want to add a little water if the alcohol content was too high for you.

The sustainability of agave, especially where it involves tequila and Blue Weber agave, has often been discussed yet another sustainability issue was raised during this seminar, an issue which receives far less attention and is more specific to Mezcal. When roasting agave, wood is the most commonly used fuel, yet the sustainability of the forest is not considered as much as it should be. Erik mentioned how Fidencio addresses this issue, by purchasing old oak staves for 50% of their fuel source. Mina Real also uses brick ovens to avoid consuming firewood.

Onto the tastings...

The Mina Real Blanco (about $27-$35) is produced in a 300-year old distillery located in the town of Santa Catarina Minas in Oaxaca. It is made from 100% Espadin agave, which grows at an altitude of 4800 feet., and it has a 42% ABV. The piñas are steamed, rather than roasted, in cantera stone kilns (cantera being a local volcanic rock) and it is distilled in clay pots.  Lacking the usual smoky aroma or taste of other Mezcals, it is more floral and fruity, with a smooth, clean taste. There are citrus flavors, a mild earthy aspect and some intriguing chocolate notes. Jake even recommended putting a shot of this Mezcal into your coffee. This would make for an excellent introductory Mezcal, a gateway to the wide world of Mezcal and helping to dispel the myth that all Mezcal must be smoky.  

The Fidencio Tobala ($130-$145) has roots back over 120 years, when Fidencio Jimenez started making Mezcal. The distillery is located in Santiago Matatlán in Oaxaca and they started their own Espadin agave farm back in the 1950s.  Interestingly, they practice organic and Biodynamic agriculture including harvesting during the new moon. They believe the moon phases effect the flavor of the agave and that the new moon leads to a more delicate Mezcal. Based on some quick research, they might be the only Mezcal distillery involved in Biodynamic agriculture.

Fidencio only does a single batch of wild agave each year and though they don't label their Mezcals as "vintage," they are identified by a Lot number which essentially tells you the year of harvest. This Fidencio Tobala was Lot 12, indicating it was from the 2012 harvest, and it has a 45.5% ABV. In the production, they used a horse-drawn tahona to crush the piñas and roast them using Encino, a special type of American black oak. Fermentation occurs in 1000 liter pine vats, the porous wood supporting the bloom of bacteria, and then distillation occurs in a copper pot still. I was impressed with this Mezcal, finding it complex and intriguing. It was silky smooth, with a mild smokiness and pleasing citrus and herbal notes. On the lengthy finish, there was a nice peppery element. Slowly savored, this is the type of Mezcal that will make you think, relishing each unique flavor you discover. Highly recommended.

Del Maguey was founded in 1995 by Ron Cooper who is largely responsible for introducing the U.S. to artisanal, traditional Mezcal. They produce a series of single village Mezcals, made by small, family producers and which are also 100% organic. The Del Maguey Papalote is currently not available commercially and won't be released into the market until around August 2016. This Mezcal was produced by Aurelio Gonzalez Tobon, the 9th family that Del Maguey is working with, and the first family located outside Oaxaca.

This Mezcal is from the region of Puebla and initially, Del Maguey was going to release this spirit as a "distillate of agave" as Puebla wasn't included in the Mezcal DO.  However, they met some resistance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) who seemed to have trouble understanding why this could;t be labeled as Mezcal. The delay though had a silver lining as in 2015, Puebla was finally added to the Mezcal DO so now Del Maguey didn't have to call it a distillate of agave. Papalote is the Puebla name for the Tobala agave and Del Maguey wants to use the regional name out of respect for the region and family producing the Mezcal.

This Mezcal is made in a traditional way, roasting piñas in a horno, fermenting in an open air vat, and distilled for about 35 hours in a copper pot still. In some respects, this Mezcal reminded me of the Fidencio, which isn't surprising as they both use the same type of agave. It too was complex and intriguing though it tended to possess more of a floral aspect and fruit flavors of pear and apple. There was only a mild smokiness, a very lengthy finish without the pepper of the Fidencio. This was an elegant Mezcal, another one which you will want to slowly savor with good friends.  Highly recommended.

The Derrumbes San Luis Potosi ($70) is produced by Emanuel Perez in the village of Charcas in the state of San Luis Potosí.  It is made from Salmiana, a wild agave which has a very low yield, and has a 43.5% ABV. The piñas are cooked above ground using some dried agave leaves, and thus is is not as smoky as some Mezcals, and is later fermented in clay pots. I found this Mezcal to have strong vegetal and herbal flavors, including some jalapeño, pepper, and floral notes. There was also an intriguing streak of minerality in this Mezcal, with a powerful finish that presented a complex and harmonious blend of citrus and spice. There is plenty going on within this Mezcal yet it all works well together. Another delicious Mezcal you should check out.

Drink more Mezcal!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Back by popular demand, Chef Tony Maws’ Guest Chef “Top Dogs” series returns to The Kirkland Tap & Trotter for its second year—featuring a new lineup of culinary all-stars, ready to serve their unique takes on an American summer classic. From June-September, one guest chef per month will step into the kitchen, creating a limited-time version of their “Top Dog,” which will be offered Monday nights alongside Chef Maws’ original Kirkland Dog ($16 each).

A lifelong Frank fanatic, Chef Maws initially created the series to celebrate one of his favorite foods; have some fun with chefs he admires; and support an extremely important cause. After raising $8,500 for the organization in 2015, Chef Maws will once again donate 50% of the proceeds from the guest chef hot dogs to No Kid Hungry, a national non-profit working to end childhood hunger in the United States.

This year’s Top Dogs will be created by Kristen Kish (formerly of Menton), Susan Regis (Shepard), Tim Cushman (O-Ya, Hojoko), and Andrew Taylor & Mike Wiley (Eventide Oyster Co.). The four chefs will be on hand at Kirkland to present their dogs for the first night of their series. Guests who visit Kirkland for the Top Dog series will get a punch card and are encouraged to return to try each chef’s version. Those who successfully order all four dogs will be entered for a chance to work with Tony Maws’ team and create their own hot dog, which will then be featured on the menu in October.

Top Dog Schedule (only available on Mondays):
June 6 – June 27: Kristen Kish
July 11 – July 25: Susan Regis
August 1 – August 29 : Tim Cushman
September 12 – September 26: Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley
Guest chefs will only be present at The Kirkland Tap & Trotter on the first Monday listed; their hot dogs will be available on each Monday until the next chef’s appearance.

Last year the chefs really let their imaginations run wild,” says Chef Maws. “We had everything from a Japanese Ball Park Street Dog, to a Jersey Italian Hot Dog, an Icelandic Lamb Dog, and a ‘Rhody Dog’ topped with calamari! I know this group will take our hot dog to a whole new level. I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with, and am thrilled to work together to benefit a great cause!

2) Society on High, located in the Financial District, invites Bostonians to get Shipwrecked at Society on June 11, from 3pm-7pm, for their second installment of Surf & Turf Socials. Society on High's Surf & Turf Socials sizzle on the newly-design Society patio on the second Saturday of every month.

Shipwrecked at Society brings together Boston's sailors, pirates, and mermaids at heart for a Saturday afternoon social with complimentary, nautical-themed surf & turf bites (think lobster and sliders), specialty drinks with Sailor Jerry rum, tunes spun by some of Boston's best DJs, and more!

HOW: RSVPs are strongly recommended for groups of 10 or more. Special packages for offices parties or corporate groups are available. Theme attire welcome. Complimentary food while supplies last.

3) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things Rosé at their second annual Rosé Rumble. This event will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, July 13, the Rosé rumble will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 5:30 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here:

4) The Terrace Bar at Legal Sea Foods in Charles Square is ready to bring on summer. Each month from June through August, Legal Sea Foods will offer “Endless Summer” themed eats exclusive to its al fresco Terrace Bar situated in front of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

Since Legals feels that “Taco Tuesdays” should be a daily occurrence, the Terrace Bar kitchen will host their “Total Taco Takeover” every day in June. For thirty days and nights, Legals will serve up a collection of tacos for less than $5 each: Crispy Fried Fish with avocado, pico de gallo, pickled red cabbage and chipotle mayo ($3.95); Ancho Chili Braised Chicken with salsa verde, queso blanco and pickled red onion ($3.95); Spicy Tuna Crudo with avocado, peppadew peppers and crudito ($4.95); and, Grilled Shrimp with corn salsa, queso blanco and chipotle mayo ($4.95).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thirst Boston: Sacred Bond Pop-Up

The quality of the ingredients in your cocktail can make a significant difference in its taste. For example, if you're making a Manhattan and use a higher quality Vermouth, the cocktail is going to taste much better than if you use some cheap Vermouth which lacks in flavor. The problem is that too many people don't think much about secondary ingredients like Vermouth, feeling that only the quality of the Whiskey is important. However, you need to consider the quality all of the alcohols and mixers in your drink.

Brandy is another of those secondary ingredients which many people don't think much about. They buy the cheapest brandy they can find, thinking it won't matter much but it actually does. Sure, you don't need to spend $100 for some rare Brandy but you should be willing to pay a reasonable amount for a quality Brandy which will elevate the flavor profile of your cherished cocktail.

Let me offer you a Brandy recommendation.

At Thirst Boston, I checked out the Sacred Bond Pop-Up Bar, which was led by Lynn House, a master mixologist and the National Brand Educator for Heaven Hill Brands. Lynn was showcasing The Christian Brothers Sacred Bond Bottled-In-Bond Brandy (about $25) which will be released soon in about ten markets, including Boston. And this is a delicious Brandy that you should stock at your home for your cocktails.

The Christian Brothers, founded in 1882 in the San Joaquin Valley, California, was a religious order of monks who made wine and brandy. Still in San Joaquin, the company currently makes a line of different brandies and this new product was made to honor the original monks. The Sacred Bond is a grape brandy, made with California grapes, which is distilled in copper pot stills. Though this Brandy is produced and aged in San Joaquin Valley, the finished product is shipped to Kentucky where it is then bottled.

In accordance with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, this brandy has been produced in a single distillation season, by one distiller, at one distillery. In addition, it has been aged for 4 years in American white oak bourbon barrels, in a federally bonded warehouse, and bottled at 100 proof. Very few spirits qualify to be bottled-in-bond.

I first tried some of this Brandy on its own and was very pleased with its smooth, flavorful taste. It is more full bodied, with delicious and bright flavors of red fruits and ripe plum, with mild spice notes and a vanilla backbone. There was even a hint of chocolate on the finish. Despite it being 100 proof, the alcohol was well integrated and there was only a mild heat at the finish, not what you might expect at all. With its full flavors and complexity, this would enhance any cocktail and Lynn mentioned that the Sacred Bond was created to enhance cocktails.

I tried the three cocktails they had for sampling, including a Ginger Sidecar, Brandy Smash and Temptress. In each cocktail, the Brandy took the dominant role, rather than as a supporting ingredient. And each cocktail worked well, providing a delicious and well-balanced drink. My favorite of the three was the Brandy Smash, made with 2 oz Sacred Bond, 1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup, and 6 mint leaves destemmed. It was fresh and minty, with bright citrus and red berry flavors. Very refreshing, this would be an excellent summer cocktail. The Ginger Sidecar, made with 2 oz Sacred Bond, 1 oz de Domaine Canton, & 1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice, was also very good, with the clean taste of ginger, mild red berries, and bright citrus.  It too would work well for the summer.

The Sacred Bond Bottled-In-Bond Brandy will soon be on liquor store shelves and I recommend you pick up a bottle and try it out with your summer cocktails. I know that I'll be doing that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Thirst Boston: Overall Impressions

"To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."
--Homer Simpson

I've spent the last three days sampling and drinking a wild variety of spirits and cocktails, including Rum, Rye, Vodka, Mezcal, Bourbon, Scotch, Gin, Cider, Rhum, Whiskey (from all over the world), Liqueurs, Sake, Baijiu, Water and more. What a fun, educational and tasty three days.

Yesterday, the 3rd Annual Thirst Boston ended and it's now time to reflect and contemplate over my experiences this past weekend, as a media guest, immersed in the world of spirits and cocktails. I filled many pages in my notebook with informationI garnered from this conference. As I've also attended the last two thirst Boston events, it is interesting to compare and contrast the three events, to see how it has evolved over time. In short, this year's Thirst Boston was excellent once again, albeit with some minor issues that could be improved at next year's conference.

This year's event was put together by two local professionals, Maureen Hautaniemi, and Nick Korn, though obviously there was a large group of other people who helped to contribute to the organization and operation of the conference, including sponsors, presenters and volunteers. There were ample individuals at the event with the black Thirst Boston t-shirts, helping to ensure everything ran as smoothly as possible. Logistically, the conference seemed to run very smoothly and largely on time. The staff and volunteers all possessed a positive spirit and were very helpful with questions and issues.

This year, Thirst Boston was held at the Boston Center For Adult Education (BCAE), on Arlington Street, a change from last year's Fairmont Copley Hotel. The conference events were held on two floors, and it was easy to access all of the main seminar events and pop-ups. I think this venue worked well for this type of conference and hope that they return again next year. Each year of Thirst Boston has been held at a different venue and it would be good to have some regularity on the location.

The event begun on Friday night, May 20, with The Thing at the Hampshire House and ended on Monday morning, May 23, with a number of private industry events. In the previous events, the heart of the event took place on Saturday and Sunday but this year they added more events, especially seminars, on Monday too, expanding the size and scope of the conference. Most of the Monday seminars were more trade-focused but they still were open to anyone interested in the various topics.

Ticket prices varied dependent on the event though you could purchase special discounted one, two or three-days passes. At the top was the Cocktail Scholar ($250), saving you $50, which allowed you entry to three seminars on Saturday & Sunday, entry to The Thing and the Blender Blender competition. The Industry Professional ($150), saving you $55, allowed you entry to three seminars on Sunday and Monday, and ticket to the Blender Blender competition. A Saturday Pass ($60), saving you $15,  allowed entry to 3 seminars. while a Sunday Pass ($100), saving you $30, allowed you entry to three seminars as well as Blender Blender.  The Monday Pass ($50), saving you $25, allowed entry to 3 seminars.

Compared to last year's prices, the cost of individual seminars remained the same, $25 per class. The two and three day passes actually cost less this year. As such, prices remain reasonable and even if you are on a very limited budget, you still can experience plenty. For example, if you spent only $25 to attend a seminar on Saturday, you were also able to attend, for free, two Pop-Up Bars, the Boston Shaker Pop-Up Store, the New England Craft Showcase and the State Lines: New England Pop-ups. That is plenty of spirits and cocktails for one low price.

"It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth."
--George Burns

There was a nice diversity of social events, including the Friday Opening Night Gala, The ThingBlender Blender (a bartender competition of frozen drinks), State Lines: A New England Popup (number of bars offering special local spirits), three Cocktail Dinners (such as Stammtisch: German Feast with Jägermeister) and a couple of After Parties.  Thirst Boston has always been a very social conference, with plenty of parties and after-parties, ample opportunity to drink and mingle with friends old and new, as well as to meet new people. Though I didn't attend the late evening parties, those I spoke to who attended such parties enjoyed themselves.

There were also four Pop-Up Bars with spirits and cocktails from companies such as Mad River Distillers, Anchor Distilling, Konga Line, Sacred Bond, and Lejay Cassis. Essentially, you could taste some spirits neat or in one of a few different cocktails. You could taste all of the different cocktails they were offering and return later to try them again. I stopped by several of the pop-ups and enjoyed much of what I tasted, and will be discussing some specific alcohols and cocktails in a later post.

In addition, there were about 38 seminars, about 15 more than last year's. As last year, each seminar ran for about 90 minutes and they covered a wide diversity of subjects, from local Cider to Japanese Whiskey, from Rhum Agricole to Baijiu. I attended nine seminars, which were generally well attended. Overall, the presenters did a great job and there were tasting components to all of the seminars I attended. At each seminar, your seat also included a bottled water and a pen, and there was also a spit bucket very close. Hydrate and spit, a great way to navigate all of the alcohol you might sample that day.

What I wrote last year about the seminars applied equally as well this year: "Another good aspect of the seminars is that they generally promoted an anti-snobbery attitude, helping to bust some of the myths concerning spirits, especially in regard to what is "the best." No one was put down for whatever they preferred to drink, and exploration and expanding your palate was encouraged. The seminars were often educational, but the presenters also made it fun, so it wasn't a dry, scholarly lecture."

No matter your interest or preferences, there was probably plenty for you to enjoy, and there were certainly lots of opportunities to taste intriguing spirits and cocktails. In the near future, I'll be posting specifics about the seminars I attended.

Once again, Adam Lantheaume of the Boston Shaker (the best cocktail supply store in the Boston area) opened a Pop-Up Shop at Thirst Boston, offering a variety of cocktail related items for sales, from bitters to glassware, books to t-shirts. So many interesting items for purchase and I. bought some bitters.

Some of the interesting spirit and cocktail books that were available.

Lots of bitters, of all flavor types, ready to enhance any cocktail.

Great socks!

Glassware, shakers, and much more.

"There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking."
--Benjamin Franklin

From their website, Thirst Boston is stated to be "... a weekend long cocktail festival focused on education all about cocktails and spirits. We have amazing classes during the day with everything to get you need to get started making cocktails at home, all the way up to career focused education for hospitality professionals. Our nights are full of celebration and fun, with a black tie gala, a bar crawl full of New England's best bars and a blended drink party to put all blended drinks to shame." In addition, the website states that their intent is to be "...a gathering of bartenders, industry icons and beverage connoisseurs from Boston and beyond. Our goal is to educate attendees on the science, craft, and taste of all things related to the art of drink."

The primary attendees at Thirst Boston seem to be those involved in the trade, trying to expand their knowledge, hone their skills, network, and have fun. There is only a small percentage of attendees who are spirit and cocktail enthusiasts, who don't work in the industry. I think many other enthusiasts would benefit from attending Thirst Boston, expanding their own knowledge and learning about a wide variety of spirits and cocktails. Plenty of these people attend tasting events at local liquor stores so why not come to Thirst Boston?

Yesterday, I covered the Diversity issue which I have raised after each Thirst Boston event. Hopefully that post will start a discussion to improve the local spirits and cocktail community.

One of my complaints, which is the same as I voiced last year, is that if you wanted to maximize your experiences at Thirst Boston, trying to attend as much as possible, you had little free time to grab lunch. There was only 15 minutes between each seminar, and during that time, you also might want to check out the pop-up bars. Except for some breakfast foods on Monday, Thirst Boston didn't supply any food to the attendees, not even cheese & crackers. And no food with all that alcohol is not a good thing. It would have been beneficial to have had a food truck or two outside the BCAE for the attendees. Hopefully, Thirst Boston will work on the food issue for the next conference

Thirst Boston fills an important need in the Boston area, providing a large scale spirit & cocktail event. There are plenty of large wine events in the area each year, but spirits and cocktails have far less representation at large events. Their seminars provide important educational information, their tastings provide important opportunities for sampling, and their parties provide fun, social occasions. I look forward to next year's Thirst Boston and hope that it is even bigger and better.

If you attended Thirst Boston, what were your thoughts?