Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Thirst Boston 2014: Overall Impressions
Yesterday, the second annual Thirst Boston ended, with a Bartender Brunch at The Hawthorne.and it is now time to reflect over my experiences this past weekend, as a media guest, immersed in the world of spirits, cocktails, and other alcohols, As I attended last year's Thirst Boston, I can compare the two, noting any changes, whether positive or negative, as well as their similarities. In short though, this year's Thirst Boston was an excellent event, informative and fun, tasty and interesting.
The event was created and organized by a group of three locals, including Maureen Hautaniemi, Brandy Rand, and Andrew Deitz, though plenty of others contributed to the event's success, from presenters to volunteers. There were ample individuals at the event with the black Thirst Boston t-shirts, helping to ensure everything ran as smoothly as possible. Thirst Boston's 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."
This year, Thirst Boston was held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, in Copley Square, a change from last year;s Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. Though the Fairmont is a beautiful hotel, it is pricey, and room rates were $379, a financial hurdle for a number of attendees who might have wanted to stay at the hotel but couldn't afford such a high rate. Fortunately, there is ample public transportation near the hotel, making access easier. I would suggest though that next year's event be held at a more affordable hotel. With all of that alcohol available, it would be cool if people could afford a hotel room rather than travel home after drinking so much.
The event started on Friday night, November 7, and ended on Monday morning, November 10, though the heart of the event took place on Saturday and Sunday. Ticket prices varied dependent on the event, and you could purchase one-day passes or a weekend pass. The Weekend Pass ($295), allowed you entry to three seminars each day, as well as several special events, including the Friday night gala, The Thing. I will note this is the same price they charged last year. A Saturday or Sunday Pass ($105) allowed you entry to three seminars as well as special events on the day you chose. Individual Seminars cost $25 each, $5 more than the previous year, and included access to several tasting events. There were four other main events, ticket prices varying from $35-$95.
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 would also be able to attend, for free, two Hosted Bars, the Boston Shaker Pop-Up Store, and the State Lines: Portland & Providence Pop-Up. That is plenty of spirits and cocktails for one low price.
There was a nice diversity of events, including the Friday Opening Night Gala, The Thing, at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, The Roadhouse (a love letter to dive bars), Blender Blender (a bartender competition of frozen drinks), Bartender Brunch (at the Hawthorne) and various After Parties, at different locations and hosted by brands from Fernet Branca to Brugal Rum, from Sipsmith Gin to Hennessey. There were four Hosted Bars at the Fairmont on Saturday and Sunday, with drinks from French cocktails to Whiskey, Blood Marys to Daiquiris. There were also over 23 Seminars and a Boston Shaker Pop-Up. Unlike last year, there were not any book signings, which is something I think they should bring back next year. 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.
Most of the Seminars and tasting events took place on the lower level of the hotel,nicely centralizing much of the event. However, unless you were at a Seminar, there were very few places to sit down on the lower level. It might have been nice to have at least a small room, with a number of chairs, so people could sip cocktails and chat while they were between events. Though people could have gone upstairs to sit, I think it would have been better to keep everyone closer together on that lower level, as well as helping to facilitate social interaction.
Logistics wise, Thirst Boston seemed to run very well, with only minor delays for some seminars. That is very good, considering they only had about 15 minutes to reset each room for the next seminar, such as setting up and pouring the glasses for tasting. There seemed to be a good number of attendees, though it still was not overcrowded so wait times at any event were low. And based on some questions at the various seminars, only a small number were bartenders. Seems that there were numerous other industry people present, as well as some spirits and cocktail enthusiasts.
Thirst Boston is a very social event, 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, many of those who I spoke to who did attend seemed to have enjoyed themselves. And there might have been a few hangovers on Sunday morning.
One of the sponsors of Thirst Boston was Voss, who provided plenty of bottles of water throughout the entire weekend. That hydration was greatly appreciated, and beneficial to the attendees. I heard numerous people complimenting the availability of that water. I do wish though that there had been more inexpensive, quick service food available. If you wanted to maximize your experiences at Thirst Boston, you had little free time to grab lunch, so it might have been nice for some local food trucks to have been in the area. On Sunday, I did find the Bon Me truck at the corner of Clarendon and Boylston, not too far from the hotel, but I don't think many people knew it was there.
Last year, I lamented the small number of people of color who attended Thirst Boston, curious as to the reasons for such but didn't find any answers. Once again, there was a lack of diversity at the event, and I still don't possess an explanation. I still would love to hear from people of color who love spirits and cocktails, who work in the industry, as to why they don't attend this event. It seems to be a welcoming event, one where anyone can attend, so I hope next year there will be more diversity.
Boston Shaker, located in Davis Square, opened a Pop-Up store at Thirst Boston, offering a variety of cocktail related items for sales, from bitters to mixing kits, books to shakers. It remains the best cocktail supply store in the Boston area,
Fred Minnick's book, Whiskey Women, which you can see on the left side of the photo.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald
Each day, there were two Sponsored Bars, running from 9am-6pm. Essentially, you could taste some spirits neat or in one of a few different cocktails. And you weren't limited to a single taste. You could easily taste all of the different cocktails they were offering.
(And I'll be writing about the World of Whisk(e)y bar in another post).
Sonny's Restaurant & Lounge in Portland, Maine. Christina Klein is their bar manager, and the creator of two cocktails which impressed me, including the Brass Gorilla and the Rhinestone Cowboy. The Brass Gorilla (pictured above)reminded me of an old-fashioned creamsicle, creamy and sweet (but not overly so) with a slight herbal tinge. It is made from Absolut Vanilla Vodka, orange juice, Galliano, pineapple syrup, and Fernet Whipped Cream. The Rhinestone Cowboy was nicely herbal with a pleasant root beer flavor, and was made from Fernet Branca, Benedictine, Maine Root Sasparilla, Dashes Fee Brothers Gin, Barrel aged Orange Bitters, and a lemon twist.
Thirst Boston held 23 different seminars, 12 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday, and they each ran for 90 minutes. The seminars were broken down into 4 time periods, with 2-3 seminars in each period, and I attended six different seminars. They covered a wide diversity of subjects and they were well attended, a number of them selling out. Each seminar seemed to have 25-30 or so attendees. The presenters did well, and there were tasting components to all of the seminars I attended, and some of the seminars were even more interactive.
One of the best aspects of several of the seminars was that they engaged in comparison tastings, which I have long said is one of the best ways to learn about the differences of wines and spirits. When you taste two alcohols, which are the exact same except for a single element, you definitely learn how that element affects the taste of the alcohol. Maybe the barrel aging is different, or maybe the type of still that is used. Many of the tastings were also held blind, where you knew only minimal information about the spirit. That helped to prevent any preconceptions based on brand.
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.
I'll be posting specifics about several of the seminars I attended later this week.
If you attended Thirst Boston, what were your thoughts?