Water is odourless, colourless and tasteless. But that has not stopped brands from working to convince us that their water has special properties to justify a premium price.
Evian solemnly explains its water takes a “15-year journey through the French Alps.” Highland Spring says it is “naturally and slowly driven through many layers of basalt rock to become immaculately filtered.” Volvic claims to be, “free from the incline of the outside world,” (whatever that means).
Sales of bottled water are skyrocketing. Over 1.77 million litres were bought in the UK last year – for the first time exceeding sales of cola. Total sales are on track to exceed 4.7 billion litres by 2021. It is the fastest growing drinks sector in the world.
And while the big water producers dominate shelf space in the supermarket, new niche brands are emerging all the time with Instagram friendly labels and overexcitable marketing campaigns.
One Australian brand, Frequency H2O, goes so far as to describe its beverage as “a synthesis of wisdom and evolution” and “the ultimate elixir of life.”
As writer Sophie Elmhirst recently noted, “Water is no longer simply water – it has become a commercial blank slate, a word on to which any possible ingredient or fantastical, life-enhancing promise can be attached.”
Hundreds of these aqua upstarts can be found congregating at the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, the largest and longest-running competition of its kind.
The twelves judges grade waters according to their appearance, smell, mouthfeel, and taste – and award medals to those they deem to be the best. But it is no easy task.
“After a while it became nearly impossible to tell the waters apart. There was no difference in colour. They were all odourless. They were all, on first sip, nearly identical,” writer Dave Stroup explained with refreshing honesty after he was invited to participate as a judge.
“Stripped of all the marketing, all the gimmickry, the flashy bottle – it was impossible to identify anything. After all, how would I know if I was drinking European iceberg water or bottled tap water from Ohio if I couldn’t see a price tag? In a blind test, luxury water tastes just like a commodity.”