Calling All At-Home Bartenders: Thirst Boston Has a Contest For You

The annual craft cocktail festival and industry convention returns this spring, and amateur mixologists are invited to show their best stuff.

Thirst Boston

2014 Thirst Boston at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. / Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Are you a nine-to-fiver whose mixed drinks are the life of any party you attend? You are?

First of all, can we be friends? And secondly, here’s a chance to show Boston’s top tier mixologists what you’ve got.

Thirst Boston, a craft cocktail extravaganza and industry convention, is back for its third year May 20-23. With spirits events, professional development, and brand strategists Offsite on board, this year’s festival is upping the game with an amateur bartending competition.

Now through April 1, anyone who hasn’t worked behind a bar in the past five years is invited to submit their best Knob Creek rye recipe for the chance to serve their recipe alongside the city’s reigning cocktail masters at the opening gala.

“It’s something we’ve seen in the bartending industry 100 times: a cocktail competition. But I’ve never seen a competition aimed specifically at home bartenders,” says Maureen Hautaniemi, cofounder of Thirst Boston and an events planner with a focus on the spirits industry. “I know the whole craft cocktail culture has created all these people who are absolutely making delicious craft cocktails at home, but they just get to make them for their friends. Which is awesome, if you’re their friends. But I want to know who these people are, and I want them to make drinks in the spotlight.”

The competition is sponsored by Knob Creek, and every entry must feature Knob Creek rye—the only whiskey the cocktail can have—and it must showcase the home bartender’s personal style. What if their personal style is more suited to a gin-based drink, or rum, or mezcal?

“It’s very possible,” concedes Hautaniemi. “But whiskey is so hot right now; lots of people are mixing with whiskey, experimenting with whiskey, and just drinking whiskey in their homes. Home bartenders should certainly have a great whiskey cocktail in their back pocket.”

On Sunday, April 10, a panel of judges—likely including Hautaniemi or Offsite founder Nick Korn; a Knob Creek representative; and an elite Boston bartender—will critique the semifinalists, and the winner will roll up his or her sleeves during “the Thing” on Friday, May 20. The Thing, the black-tie optional kickoff party, has seen Boston bartending heavyweights like Ezra Star (Drink), Jackson Cannon (Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne), and Ran Duan (Sichuan Garden II) behind the bar in the past. The lineup isn’t finalized yet for this spring’s fest, but expect to be in excellent company if your cocktail is selected.

The rest of the seminars, forums, and parties are also still in the works, but Hautaniemi is excited about a few events already. Saturday morning will see New England cider producers descend on Boston for an educational class; and that night, an event called State Lines hits the town: 10 bars from around the region will pop up at bars around the city.

“It will be a little like going on a trip through New England, without leaving your hometown,” Hautaniemi says. Expect to see bartenders from the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, El Rancho Grande in Providence, Highland Brass Co. in Waterbury, Conn., and more.

The Blender Bender takes over Whiskey Saigon on Sunday, but the recurring event isn’t limited to tiki-style blended drinks this year. And for the first time, Thirst Boston is extending into Monday. That day’s happenings will be trade-focused, Hautaniemi says.

The whole weekend maintains a strong focus on New England, but cocktail enthusiasts and professional bartenders from across the country will be in town to see how Boston does craft cocktails.

And if you have a sizzling Sazerac or a dazzling Diamondback to share, you can represent Boston, too. For full details on the home bartender competition and to submit your recipe, visit

Thirst Boston, Friday, May 20-Monday, May 23, various locations, $105-$295,