Drinking doesn’t seem all that complicated on the surface, and in truth, it doesn’t have to be. But when there is some thought put into it, both in how it’s made, and how you think about what it is you’re ordering, it can be elevated from a pastime to an art and a science. 

The folks behind Thirst Boston, the four-day festival of everything boozy beginning Friday, May 20th, are well aware of just how deep and broad an exploration of the world of spirits can be. Now in its third year, the event is back with more parties, bar pop-ups, seminars, and showcases. We asked one of the organizers, Maureen Hautaniemi, to explain some of the highlights. 

Party

For the past four years The Thing has been the annual grand gala of the Boston bar world. This year the creative black-tie event comes to the Hampshire House, where guests will dine on oysters and caviar, and enjoy cocktails from some of the areas best bartenders from the likes of Backbar, Capo, Yvonne’s, Drink, Eastern Standard and The Baldwin Bar. On Sunday the popular Blender Bender party will return, with New England bartenders competing to make the best blender-based frozen cocktail. 

Drink

There are so many great cocktail bars across New England now, you’ve got to trek pretty far to get to a lot of them. On Saturday, nine of the best bars will pop-up throughout Boston, including Portland’s Portland Hunt and Alpine Club at Silvertone, Kittery’s Wallingford Dram at Wink & Nod, and Worcester’s Armsby Abbey at Audubon. Each traveling team will bring along some of their home turf cocktails.

“I just picked all my favorite places,” Hautaniemi says. “It’s basically an orchestrated bar crawl. You can go to whatever neighborhood you like and pick and choose the pairings you want to see.” 

Eat

Three cocktail-focused dinners will take place over the weekend including Stammtisch, a German Feast with Jägermeister at Catalyst.

“They have this smoked salmon they marinated with Jägermeister, it was phenomenal I couldn’t believe it,” Hautaniemi says. At Cafe ArtScience bar scientist Todd Maul will reinterpret tiki cocktails paired with a seasonal menu. 

Learn

The New England craft spirit scene has exploded in recent years, and at the New England Craft Showcase on Saturday you’ll get to see and taste why. Damnation Alley, Astra Luna, Deacon Giles Distillery, Berkshire, Privateer, Turkey Shore Distillers, Triple 8, Boston Harbor Distillery, Dirty Water Distillery, Bully Boy, Allagash, GrandTen, Sons of Liberty, Dovetail Sake, Mad River Distillers, Spindrift and Ripe will all be on hand.

Yes, you read that right, there’s actually a Massachusetts sake now. 

Other seminars will showcase and explore spirits from around the world. “In terms of spirits no one has heard of that I think are going to be big in the future, we have a class on Monday all about Baijiu,” she says. The Asian spirit, typically made from fermented sorghum, is one of, if not the most popular in the world, and is still virtually unknown in the States.  Elsewhere a seminar on cider will detail how it’s come to prominence in the wider beer world, particularly with its long roots in New England. 

Do

Hands on classes at the Boston Center for Adult Education will provide a chance for novices to learn the tricks of the trade.

“People will get to shake things, stir things, mix their own cocktails, squeeze their own lemons and limes in classes on margaritas, manhattans, how to pair cocktails with food, how to entrain large group in your home,” she says. 

If you go:

Thirst Boston May 20-23

At the Boston Center for Adult Education and bars throughout Boston 

Tickets: $50-$250

www.thirstboston.com