Insider's Guide to Spas
Berkeley Springs State Park, Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Fundamentals

Sourcing American Spa Culture at Berkeley Springs

Bernard Burt


George Washington bathed at Berkeley Springs, creating West Virginia’s unique spa tradition.

Taking the waters in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, has been a tradiion since George Washington bathed here. Celebrating the event, the las full weekend of February, you can taste waters from around the world, experience hydrotherapy in buildings dating from 1818, and take home jugs of free water from Lord Fairfax’s well.

The whole town gets into the act. With three full-service spas offering water treatments, plus two more just for massage and beauty, this corner of the West Virginia panhandle is keeping tradition alive.

The 28th Annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting will welcome more than one hundred waters from across the country and around the globe. Held at The Country Inn in the historic spa town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, it is the largest and longest running water tasting competition in the world.

More than 700 distinct waters have entered over the life of the event, coming from all over the United States, and from as far away as Greece, New Zealand, and Korea. “The impact of winning this event is extraordinary for a bottler,” said Jeanne Mozier, one of the event founders.  “Several have experienced exponential growth, others closed major distributor deals.”

With three full-service spas offering water treatments, plus two more just for massage and beauty, this corner of the West Virginia panhandle is keeping tradition alive.

Packaging and bottle design add to the competition. “How the product looks has become ever more important as the bottled water industry continues to grow,” says Mozier. There are now more than 600 brands of bottled water, Mozier notes, so almost all winners redesign their labels to display their winning medal from Berkeley Springs.

Mozier describes the event with pride: Water is poured blind, in four categories: Municipal, Bottled Sparkling and Still, and Purified water. The real excitement for the audience comes at the conclusion, says Mozier. “Once the awards are presented, we stage the now world-famous ‘water rush’ where folks scramble to take home some of the hundreds of bottles of water that have been tasted in the competition.”

Acting as the event’s ringmaster, Arthur von Wiesenberger, from Santa Barbara, California, evaluates a product where tastelessness is the most sought after quality. Author and water historian, he has seen the Berkeley Springs event grow bigger every year. Dubbed the “granddaddy of water tastings,” by von Wiesenberger, the big water show is still free to the public.

Judging the waters requires sharp perceptions of taste on the tongue, including feeling the water’s weight and aftertaste. As a past judge, I faced the challenging task of tasting several hundred waters over the course of several days. Judges are media types, recruited by the host, Travel Berkeley Springs.

The 2018 water tasting weekend begins on Thursday, February 22, with preliminary tastings at The Country Inn that are free and open to the public. Special events and activities continue everywhere in Morgan County through Sunday. For more information, call 800-447-8797 or check their website, berkeleysprings.com.

Bernard Burt

Bernard Burt

Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Examiner.com. Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.