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Morgan County water tasting competition yields record numbers

Tricia Lynn Strader

The Journal

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va.  — The 2017 Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, which is the largest and longest running water tasting competition in the world, was held over the weekend at the Country Inn.

Bottles of water from around the world on display at the 27th Berkeley Spring International Water Tasting Friday afternoon at the Country Inn in Berkeley Springs thur Sunday Feb. 26th. Judging categories for: -Best Municipal Water from over 34 entries around the world. Best Purified Water (9 entries); -Best Bottled Non-carbonated (42 entries); Best Sparkling (17 entries) and the 2017 People’s Choice Package Design Award.
(Photo by Ron Agnir)

A record 102 waters were entered from 19 states, 12 countries, five provinces and nine West Virginia cities. This year, Costa Rica and Fiji entered for the first time. Water enthusiasts came from as far as New Zealand and Norway.

Event Producer Jill Klein Rone said the number of water entries was up from the last few years, and there were several new Greek waters entered.

“There was maple sap water — left over from the maple extraction — and a couple of municipalities from Australia, one of which won a silver medal last year,” Klein Rone said.

Events began on Thursday and concluded Saturday night. The seminar and awards were streamed live on Berkeley Springs’ Facebook page for the water tasting and can be seen at www.berkeleyspringswatertasting.com.

“I was told we had 3,200 watching on the live feed Saturday night, and we had 1,000 who watched the seminar on Friday in addition to the 50 or 60 who attended in person. I saw a comment from Australia,” Klein Rone said. “Our reach has expanded exponentially with what technology can do. People don’t have to come here to be engaged.”

Handcrafted glass water drops, created by West Virginia’s Appalachian Glass, are always presented as awards in the municipal, bottled and still water categories, as well as for purified drinking water and best packaging design. Awards were given to winners from three continents.

The 11 media judges selected by Klein Rone included representatives from various regional and national media, including television and online magazines. They were instructed to look, sniff and taste each water under guidelines similar to those in a wine tasting. The waters were rated for each attribute including appearance (it should be clear, or slightly opaque for glacial waters), aroma (there should be none), taste (it should taste clean), mouth feel (it should feel light) and aftertaste (it should leave you thirsty for more). Waters were tasted in four separate sessions over two days.

The municipal water category was a battle of champions. The top five water winners were all former gold medalists. Village of Montpelier, Ohio’s water came in first, judged as the best municipal water in the world. All the municipal winners are American waters and most from Middle America. Emporia, Kansas took second place, while the City of Hamilton, Ohio won the bronze. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California placed 4th and Independence, Missouri, 5th.

“The consistency in winners from year to year with different panels of judges validates the choices,” said Arthur von Wiesenberger, the tasting’s expert watermaster. “It also speaks to the impressively high caliber of the waters entered.”

The best bottled water title was so competitive that there were ties recorded for the gold, the silver and 5th place. The two gold medal winners were Zaros Natural Water from Crete and an American water — AlphaPure Springs Water from Ocala, Florida. The tie for the silver medal was a pair of artesian waters: Artesia from Crystal Falls, Michigan and Canadian Gold Artesian Water from Marchand Manitoba, Canada. Svalbaroi Polar Iceberg Water from Norway placed third, while artesian water, Planet H2O Natural Artesian Water of Knoxville, Tennessee, placed 4th. Fifth place winner was Whistler Water from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

“The waters from new countries Costa Rica and Fiji joined waters from Italy, Bosnia, Greece and Australia” said Jeanne Mozier, an event founder.

The best sparkling water in the world was last year’s winner, Tesanjski Kiseljak, Tesanj, Bosnia — which tied with 2016’s silver medalist Touch Sparkling Mineral Water from Marchand, Manitoba. Winning silver this year was Otakiri Reserve from New Zealand. Third place was Aqua Nobel Carbonated Water from Sweden, and 4th went to Oro Luxury Water from Macedonia. Another New Zealand water, Antipodes Sparkling Water, placed 5th.

Purified waters are a relatively new addition to the water world, with municipal systems bottling their water. This year’s winners are sourced in Toronto, Canada and based on a process that oxygenates standard water. GP8 Oxygen Water won the gold medal while Thermodx Thirst Oxygen Water and Thermodx Thirst Alkaline Water were 3rd and 4th respectively. Winning the silver was Berkeley Springs Purified Water, while 5th was Rain Fresh Bottled Water from Garland, Texas.

Klein Rone said the seminar speakers gave a lot of positive information and tips to people who can do something to protect their own water.

“Problems do exist all around the world, but there were a lot of solutions presented. It gave people a reason to hope. I wanted people to have hope over fear, and to feel more empowered, and it did that.”

Von Wiesenberger said the event had another successful run this year.

“It was another wonderful year for the longest running and largest water tasting in the world,” said von Wiesenberger. “Berkeley Springs is the Academy Awards of water.”

There is also a role for the public to play. All day Saturday, they taste water along with the judges. Most importantly, the public votes for the People’s Choice award for best packaging. They voted the gold by an overwhelming margin to Svalbaroi Polar Iceberg Water from Longyearbyen, Norway. A pair of New Zealand waters won the silver and bronze: Waiheke Imperial was second and Antipodes, third.

Once the awards are presented, organizers stage the now world-famous “water rush,” where folks scramble to take home some of the hundreds of bottles of water that have been used for display. The water rush was once highlighted by cable television’s “Games Across America.”

“I spent about six hours arranging all the waters in a display,” Mozier said. “The crowd spent less than 10 minutes making it all disappear. It’s like a Tibetan sand mandala. I was pleased to see our favorite couple from Brooklyn in the rush. Peter and Cynthia Lloyd come every year especially for the water tasting and the rush.”

The 28th annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

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