What’s the best-tasting water in the world? I headed to the nation’s first spa to find out. I was invited to judge “The Olympics of Water,” The Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, held at The Country Inn in historic Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Spa Culture note: The springs here were first used by Native Americans, and Berkeley Springs has been used as a health resort since the 1750s. Berkeley Springs State Park, located in the center of this historic town, is home to founding father George Washington’s Bathtub. On the wall of the Museum of Berkeley Springs, nestled in the 1815 Roman Bath House, is an endorsement from Washington himself: “I think myself benefited from the water and am now not without hope of their making a cure for me—a little time will show now.”
For Public Use & Benefit
The mineral waters are a comfortable 74 degrees F., and are fed from numerous springs at 1,000 gallons per minute. When the 50-acre town was established in 1776, the Virginia legislature deemed that the town was “for the purpose of housing those who came to take the waters for their health.” And the springs therein—thanks to the land’s original owner, Thomas Lord Fairfax—were to be “for the public use and benefit.”
I loved traipsing through the town’s spa history, and of course I also took time out to take the waters at the Main Bath House where the mineral water is heated to 102 degrees F. I booked an hour in one of the 750-gallon private walk-in tubs. Pure bliss.
But back to tasting the waters, not taking the waters . . .
This year marked the 32nd for the longest running and largest water tasting in the world. Water Master Arthur von Wiesenberger trained me and the other eight judges in the fine art of water tasting. If you think sipping water is simple, think again—there’s much more to water tasting than I imagined. We had to take into consideration appearance, aroma, taste, mouth feel, and aftertaste—and then spent hours tasting waters sourced in 16 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and 18 foreign countries. I am proud to report that I am now a Certified Water Taster!
So, who took home the gold? Best Municipal Water went to the Village of Montpelier, Ohio; Best Non-Carbonated Water went to Vortex Energy, Meriden, Connecticut; Best Sparkling Water went to Big Wet Sparkling Spring Water out of Victoria, Australia; and Best Purified Water went to Ophora Hyper Oxgenated Water, from Santa Barbara, California. Special shout out to Hawaiian Springs Natural Artesian Water, Kea’au, Hawaii, for winning the People’s Choice Package Award. And very special congratulations to the inimitable Shayron Barnes Selby, Primo Water Corp’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for being awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
Thank you to event producer Jill Klein Rone, Travel Berkeley Springs’ president, Stephanie Rebant, and the entire team and town who worked diligently to create an outstanding event. And to the one and only (and dearly departed) Jeanne Mozier, a “West Virginia History Hero,” whom I’m certain was watching the festivities from up above—thank you for your vision. It was a wonderful weekend full of camaraderie and incredible spa history. Stay tuned for more on Berkeley Springs.