Looking for an excuse to get out on the road and immerse yourself in local cocktail culture? Here’s a shortlist of cocktail-focused festivals around the country, new and old, to plan your summer travel around.
Thirst Boston (May 20–23)
From mainstay cocktail destinations like Drink and Eastern Standard to buzzy newcomers like Tiger Mama and Coppersmith, Boston’s bar scene is at the top of its game.
Don’t miss: Blender Bender, Sunday night at Whiskey Saigon. At this event 12 teams of bartenders will compete to see who can make the best blended cocktail, and you get to taste them all and be the judge.
We’re also looking forward to the Best Home Bartender competition; contenders previously submitted their best signature recipes, and a winner will be crowned at Friday’s opening night gala at The Hampshire House.
Chicago Cocktail Summit (May 22–23)
Home to Aviary, Lost Lake and scores of other notable bars, the Windy City has a rocking cocktail scene. It’s about time the city got a festival dedicated to its considerable cocktail-y charms.
The Summit takes place over two days; Sunday is the day geared toward home cocktail enthusiasts, while Monday is intended for bar and restaurant pros. Look for events focused around home mixology, such as how to make punch or improve your ice game—although we wouldn’t blame you for sneaking into the pro session about slushies and frozen drink machines.
Don’t miss: Cocktails for Dinner: The Art and Science of Cocktail Pairing, with presenters including vanguard mixologist and sommelier Adam Seger, culinary professor and the sommelier’s sommelier Robert Bansberg and sensory savant Jerald O’Kennard of Tastings.com and the Beverage Testing Institute.
Better yet, score tickets (sold separately) for a cocktail pairing dinner at Longman & Eagle.
New Mexico Cocktails & Culture, Santa Fe, NM (June 3–6)
Founded by local cocktail expert Natalie Bovis, this cocktail festival debuted last year, and 2016 is expected to be even bigger and better. For those who want a warm-up, check out the Santa Fe Cocktail Week new to this year—pretty much a weeklong local bar crawl that runs from Memorial Day leading into the festival.
Don’t Miss: The Haunted Bar Tour, a journey of stories and cocktails at some of downtown Santa Fe’s most notoriously haunted venues.
The Hukilau, Ft. Lauderdale, FL (June 8–12)
It’s not strictly a cocktail event, but this annual tiki festival is the place to be if you love tropical drinks and tiki culture. This year promises to be particularly over-the-top, as the festival celebrates both its own 15th year anniversary and the 60th anniversary of the Mai-Kai, an iconic local Polynesian restaurant and tiki bar.
Don’t Miss: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s talk about World War Tiki, a booze-fueled tour of World War II, when tiki culture began, and its impact on cocktails for decades afterwards.
Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans (July 19–24)
Founded in 2002, Tales of the Cocktail is the grand-daddy of all cocktail festivals and celebrates its 14th anniversary this year with a dazzling array of 200+ seminars, tastings, competitions and more spirited events. Follow your education with a bit of inebriation and relax afterwards with a drink at Compere Lapin, the Napoleon House, or any other number of storied New Orleans watering holes.
Don’t Miss: The Spirited Dinner Series. An assortment of restaurants located throughout the city stage special dinners with elaborate cocktail pairings. See a full list of participating restaurants here.
BevCon Charleston, Charleston, SC (August 21–24)
This new conference extends focus to all beverages—spirits and cocktails, to be sure, but also beer, wine, coffee and tea. It makes sense considering the wealth of distilleries, breweries and countless bars and restaurants Charleston plays home to.
Don’t miss: Although the seminars target the pros, Bar Takeovers on Sunday and Monday night are open to all, as the country’s best bartenders, distillers, brewers and wine pros serve up pours at 18 different venues around the city.