Meet James Wallace, Thirst Boston’s Top At-Home Bartender
Somerville’s backbar was an unusual sight in the afternoon sunlight on Sunday, as Thirst Boston hosted its Best Home Bartender competition mid-day at the hidden cocktail lounge.
The low-key affair brought in five semifinalists, each of whom submitted an original cocktail recipe featuring Knob Creek rye whiskey, to make their drink for a panel of judges that included Thirst Boston founder Maureen Hautaniemi, Massachusetts Jim Beam representative Mat Pugliese, and Trade bar director Tenzin Samdo.
The winning mixologist will share his drink with guests at the Thing, the kickoff party for the annual spirits convention Thirst. The amateur competition is a new addition to the third annual festival, coming up next month, and to Hautaniemi’s knowledge, it’s a unique event.
“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,” she said when the contest was announced last month.
James Wallace, a lawyer and father, is one of those people. Along with his wife and young son, he recently relocated to Brookline from Washington, D.C. “Jax’s last call is around 7:30, so we can’t go out for a well-made cocktail as often as we would like. The next best thing (and much cheaper too) is to roll up my sleeves and craft my own cocktails,” he says.
His winning cocktail combines elements of two classics. The Brown Derby, with Los Angeles-by-way-of-London origins, brings grapefruit and honey to the glass. The Boulevardier is a French negroni riff that replaces whiskey for gin.
“When I started my adventures with cocktails, I heard over and over again to start with the classics, and learn how to make them and how the flavors work together,” Wallace says. In his drink, “The grapefruit and honey are a perfect [combination] for warm weather, balanced out by the bitterness and booziness of the other ingredients, which linger with you.”
Its working title is An Englishman, a Frenchman, and an Italian Walk into a LA Bar, though Wallace says he may edit it down for his debut at the Thing. “These classics traveled the world and evolved over time, and I just married them to make a modern classic,” he says.
…Walk Into an LA Bar
2 oz. Knob Creek Rye
1 oz. grapefruit juice
.75 oz. honey syrup (2 parts honey/1 part water)
.5 oz. Campari
.5 oz. Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
Shake and strain into a coupe. Squeeze an orange peel over the cocktail to express its oils.
Thirst Boston, Friday, May 20-Monday, May 23, various locations, $50-$250, thirstboston.com.