In Berkeley Springs, Tasty Water is King

Tasty water is serious business. Learn more about an event that brings water producers from around the world together for some friendly competition.
In Berkeley Springs, Tasty Water is King
A display of the municipal entries at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting competition.

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When Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, hosted its first water-tasting competition in 1991, organizers had to work hard to fill the field of entries.

“We got on the phone and called all the regional water suppliers to ask them to please send water,” says Jill Klein Rone, co-founder and producer of the event for Travel Berkeley Springs. “For the sparkling water category, there wasn’t a whole lot of it. Someone went to the supermarket and just found some on the shelves to use.”

Fast forward to 2016, and a win at the annual competition is a distinction worth touting. The most recent edition of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting was held in February with about 70 entries from across the world vying for the title of best-tasting water in various categories. Theoni Natural Mineral Water from Greece received top honors in the bottled-water category while also announcing its launch into the U.S. market. An entry from Bosnia won in the sparkling-water category, and Clearbrook, British Columbia, took home honors for best tap water in the world.

A fourth category — purified water — has emerged in the past decade. This newer category illustrates how the Berkeley Springs competition has grown, and how some water utilities are viewing and promoting their products to the public. Many of the purified water entries come straight from a municipality’s treatment facility, says Klein Rone.

“Of course we can only judge it from who enters our contest, but based on that it does seem to be an increasing trend,” she says. “Hamilton, Ohio, has won the municipal category a few times, and after the first time they won, they started bottling their water. Daytona Beach was the same way. They won gold at one point, and then came back with their bottled water. So it’s something more municipalities are doing.”

Water vendors took the top two spots in the purified water category this year, but Hamilton claimed third with the water it’s bottled since 2010, shortly after taking gold in the municipal category for the first time. Hamilton’s bottled water is sold to area businesses, as well as donated for charitable events or disaster relief efforts. The source water is drawn from the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, which is 250 feet belowground and accessed through 21 deep wells. The water is nearly potable before treatment, and the utility uses chlorine dioxide — rather than chlorine gas — as a disinfectant.


Clearbrook Waterworks District, which serves about 10,000 people in west Abbotsford, British Columbia, took home the gold medal for the fourth time in eight years. (Facebook.com/ClearbookWaterworks)

“Nobody had any idea what it was going to mean or how much publicity a municipality would get for winning,” Klein Rone says of the event’s early years. “What happened was a municipality would win, and it would open the eyes of others near that municipality. They’d think, ‘Well, we have good water, too. We should enter.’ When someone wins, the amount of entries from others around them grows the next year. That continues to happen.”

Part of the distinction of winning at the Berkeley Springs competition comes from the media attention, which is bolstered by the fact that media members make up most of the 10-judge panel every year. They are trained by noted food and beverage consultant Arthur von Wiesenberger, who teaches them what to look for, smell and taste when judging water. To cleanse the palate in between tastings? Water crackers, of course.

“We try to get food and beverage writers and travel writers because part of it is getting people to Berkeley Springs,” Klein Rone says. “We bring them here for the water tasting, but then along the way they can check out our spas and all the other things that make Berkeley Springs the great town it is.”

And municipalities like Hamilton, Ohio, get the opportunity to boast that they have some of the best-tasting water in the world.



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