A Quick Sip With Thirst Boston Founder Andrew Deitz

By Scott Kearnan  |  November 8, 2013

This Sunday-Monday, November 10-11, marks the inaugural Thirst Boston, a drink festival that will bring to Hotel Commonwealth a huge range of deep-dive educational seminars, local and national spirits experts and a spate of parties (including the black tie-optional kickoff gala, irreverently dubbed The Thing, on Saturday night). Basically, if you want to learn up and drink up with the top-shelf members of Boston's cocktail clique, you want in. (Check out the full schedule of events here.)

The event is the brainchild of four industry vets: beverage events producer Maureen Hautaniemi, industry consultant and writer Brandy Rand, onethebar mobile app co-founder (and official Red Sox DJ) TJ Connelly, and Andrew Deitz, on-site consultant for M.S. Walker Massachusetts (a wine and sprits distributor). Ahead of the big brouhaha, we grabbed Deitz to learn more about why it felt like the right time to bring a Tales of the Cocktail-style festival to Boston; how the team hopes to differentiate Thirst Boston from other cocktail conferences; and some of the industry trends they'll be tackling.

What was the impetus for Thirst Boston?

We wanted to create this overarching beverage festival, with a cocktail focus, that reflects Boston. Going to all these cocktail conferences across the country, you realize the history and power of talent in this city is pretty staggering. At all these festivals, Boston comes in and wins big competitions. We’re so well represented: everyone is talking about places like Drink, Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne and Backbar. There’s so much buzz about Boston, and we need something for the really richly talented industry here. Thirst Boston is a great forum to highlight talent and gives us the opportunity to promote awareness of cocktail culture.

While there's healthy competition, it seems like Boston really takes shared pride in the success of its cocktail scene. In a way that seems - a little unique? 

It really is. Something that’s awesome to watch, when you go to something like Tales of the Cocktail where Drink wins World’s Best Cocktail Bar or Hawthorne picks up accolades, is that you always have this drove of Boston bartenders, a huge pack, relentlessly cheering each other on. I can’t tell you how often other bartenders or brand people go over to me and say, “You people really have something special in Boston.” It’s true. There are great people in every market, but I’ve never been to one with this kind of community. I heard [Drink GM] John Gertsen say it best: “Things don’t go viral in Boston. They go tribal.”

People often compare the culinary scene in Boston to other cities. But why do you think the beverage scene seems like it's standing above those in many markets? 

There’s just a lot of excitement in this part of the industry right now, and a lot of other areas haven’t reached the same point in evolution that we have. Our food scene is extremely well evolved, but you also probably have more markets around the country with dining scenes that also have great food. But this [the beverage industry] is coming up fast. It’s the natural next step. When people put a stronger focus on the culinary space, the next logistical step is the wine and bar program.

How did you want to differentiate Thirst Boston from other cocktail conferences?

One thing we want to do is to make Thirst a bit more intimate. All the events are contained within the Hotel Commonwealth, so you get to explore everything throughout the festival without traveling all around the city. Also, there was tremendous thought that went into curating the seminars. We wrote the majority of this content ourselves, and turned down way more seminars than we accepted, which I think is rather unusual. At other conferences you often see seminars that are, basically, place fillers: they did it because a brand wanted to get involved so they put something together. We made sure that these are extremely content-focused, and the bulk of them have that really serious educational component. They’re not forums to pimp a brand! And it’s not to say everyone does it that way, but I think we’re especially well edited.

There's a lot of education on Boston cocktail history, but looking forward, what are some exciting seminars looking at burgeoning trends on the horizon?

There are a ton of forward-thinking seminars. We have one, Beers Back: Beer’s Integration in Cocktails, [led by Kevin Martin of Eastern Standard and Kevin Mabry of jm Curley] that looks at that trend. People have played with beer cocktails, but you’re really seeing it burst onto menus. There’s also Japanese Whisky: Pride. Perfection. Passion [led by whiskey expert Nick Korn and O Ya manager Alyssa DiPasquale]. As a category it’s very hip, but also the quality level of whiskey coming out of Japan is incredible. Another big trend is awareness of the terroir of spirits, so we have Location, Location, Location: Terroir and Merroir [led by Del Maguey Mezcals ambassador Misty Kalkofen and Island Creek Oyster Bar manager Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli]. With wine of, course, terroir has a very important, storied history: people understand the concept of microclimate, that a vine grown in a certain place, and a wine made from it in a certain way, tastes completely different than if that vine was grown ten feet away. Applying that understanding to other beverages is the next level. Stuff gets a little more complicated when you talk about mixing ingredients, but understanding what a spirit is, where it is from and why it tastes the way it does is hugely important.

And something that’s personally important to me is truth in labeling, so we have The Biggest Myths in the Spirit Industry. You see a lot of quote-unquote “craft” brands out there that are doing shady, dishonest things. There are so many people in the industry who really care about the product that they put at a bar and in their body. But then you have supposed artisan spirits that are nothing more than something from an industrial tank in Indiana repackaged and claiming to be from XYZ small distiller tucked in the mountains somewhere. That’s not to say large production can’t also be good, but they can’t be pulling the wool over people’s eyes.