The phrase “testing the waters” takes on a
whole new meaning in the historic spa town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia,
where the annual International Water Tasting
cities and companies from around the world hoping to take home the title of
Entrants representing countries from Bosnia to
South Korea submit a total of more than 100 waters among
four categories, including best municipal (tap) water, best bottled
non-carbonated water, best bottled carbonated water and best purified (distilled
or mechanically filtered) water. Each sample is served in stemmed glassware as 11 judges
inspect the water for clarity and smell before tasting it.
Judges then give each sample a rating based on
appearance, odour, flavour, mouthfeel and aftertaste, similar to the elements
involved in wine tasting. Clear water with no odour and a clean and crisp taste
earns higher marks.
In 2012, Greenwood, a small city in British
Columbia, won best municipal water. The award for best non-carbonated water
went to Jackson Springs Natural
Premium Spring Water in Canada’s Manitoba province; best carbonated
water went to the Esperanza brand from Bosnia’s Tesanjski
Dijamant company; and best purified water went to the Claire Baie brand
by Wisconsin's WIT Beverage.
Now in its 23rd year, the
competition has attracted so many entries that judging is split over two days. This
year, preliminary judging takes place on 21 February, with the top 10 in each
category moving on to the final judging on 23 February. The final tasting and
winners’ reception are free and open to the public, though tickets must be
obtained through local hotels or the town’s visitor centre. At the conclusion of
the official tasting, visitors have the chance to try samples for themselves,
and can even vote for the best packaging design, which is awarded based on public
input along with the judges’ vote.
The water tasting finale comes in the form of
the “Water Rush”, where visitors participate in a free-for-all
to snag the leftover bottles of water sent from around the world for judging.
Seasoned rushers bring reusable bags to ensure they grab enough to quench their
thirst for exotic water until next year.