The Unbearable Blandness of Water

a woman with shoulder-length brown hair and a red jack holds a goblet of water in front of her face
Water Judge Karen Cara at the 2011 Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. (AP Photo/The Journal, Chris Jackson)

Dave Stroup didn’t just attend the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, aka the Academy Awards of Water, he became a certified water-taster and judge. At Eater, he tells us all about the experience of trying to judge a substance whose main characteristics are colorlessness, odorlessness, and tastelessness — and about the lengths water companies go to in the effort to distinguish their tasteless product from their competitors’.

There are no big brands at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting — no Dasani, FIJI, Evian, or Deer Park. The waters that compete tend to be local, niche, or super-high-end (think small-batch or mail-order only). There are four different categories, three of which are bottled — non-carbonated, purified, and sparkling — and municipal water. The bottled waters include all sorts, from ancient springs to waters that make claims of being specially pH-balanced or oxygen-rich. Alongside more typical fare, such as Hope Natural Spring Water from Virginia and even Berkeley Springs’ own purified drinking water, there’s Frequency H2O, from Australia, which is described by its manufacturer as “a synthesis of wisdom and evolution” that is “alive with the pulsations of the Universe” after being “put through a 2-stage kinetic energy process and infused at 528Hz, the Solfeggio frequency of LOVE.” Svalbarði’s Polar Iceberg water costs about $80 for a 750-milliliter bottle and literally comes from a melting iceberg off the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

Of course, it’s not all pontificating about the mouthfeel subtleties of expensive glacier water. There’s also space to discuss global water challenges. Well… sort of.

It’s probably not surprising that the seminar portion of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting is so lightly attended. No one wants to be told the grim truth that much of the world, even here in the United States, lacks access to clean water, or of a Mad Max future with nations fighting wars over it. At least, no one wants to hear it in a hotel ballroom, next to an elaborate display of thousands of dollars of fancy bottles evoking the image of pure, flowing water.

Next year I’ll be entering water bottled from my very own kitchen sink; it’s municipal Roman water, and if you close your eyes you can just pick up a whiff of imperial ambition in the nose.

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