The Essence of Wetness

Water sommeliers are absolutely a thing, the only question is when you’re gonna get on board

Way back in January, SFR freelancer Kiley Larsen popped by Asian fusion eatery Liu Liu Liu and reported something rather interesting: There’s such a thing as water sommeliers.

If you’re unfamiliar, the term comes to us from the wine world, and is a title bestowed upon those who so completely know wine that it’s kind of absurd. Now apply that concept to water. Ignoring those of you who have read thus far and thought either, “We’ve known about water sommeliers since well before January,” or, “Ugh, seriously—water sommeliers?!” all snobby, it was news to me, and I can only assume it’s news to lots of others. So let me be plain: Water sommeliers are totally a thing now and you’re likely going to see more of them popping up in the coming months and years, particularly as municipal water becomes more scarce (which is also totally a thing) and as restaurants want to start offering more options to the teetotalers among us who want a nice meal pairing even if we can’t drink booze all the time anymore.

In other words, finding and sampling fine water can be a way to replace the ritual of regular alcohol consumption, because yeah—there’s a whole wide world of water out there, and if we’re going to make the most of it, we’ll need a guide. Oh, sure, I was once like you, scoffing at the idea and thinking things about how I’ll just stick to any old $1 bottle I can find at the gas station or, like, a Brita filter. But I’m changing my tune, and much of it is thanks to Santa Fe’s Marti Mills, a certified water specialist on her way to becoming a full-on water sommelier, with whom I recently met to sample some of that sweet, sweet H2O.

Mills has been hosting tastings at REMIX Audio Bar for some time now, and has been studying under a program from Los Angeles-based water som Martin Riese. He’s kind of like the rockstar of this specific world. Mills, meanwhile, says she’s about halfway to her own certification, which she’ll get through the German program Doemens. In the meantime, she’s already picked up numerous private clients and, as of this writing, presides over some of the most affordable fine water tastings in the country. Still, one wonders, why nerd out on water?

“I always have ideas, and when I quit drinking several years ago and wanted something else, I realized I was thirsty and wanted something to do,” Mills tells SFR. “My personal progression led naturally to [fine water], and once I started doing it, I was instantly hooked.”

If you sampled some of the finer waters available today, you’d be hooked, too. In fact, I myself wound up hooked following our informal tasting wherein Mills brought along three of her favorite fine water brands: Lofoten from Norway, Socosani from Peru and Sourouti from Greece.

Right off the bat, it’s important to know you’ve likely never had high-quality water. Much of what you’ll find bottled in America is base-level potable stuff from sources about which you probably know very little, if anything. According to Mills, the big companies filter this water down to its most tasteless, mineral-free form, add back some minerals and throw words like “smart” and “electrolyte” on the bottles to confound folks whose needs fall somewhere between not wanting to die of thirst and not giving a shit what water does what. They also tend to be full of nitrates, according to Mills. The three waters we sampled were a completely different experience and free of anything but the natural bits they picked up at or around their sources.

Lofoten, for example, is harvested from from glacial lake water in the Lofoten Islands, and Mills says the glacier itself is over 10,000 years old. In other words, when you sip this naturally lightly carbonated water, you’re tasting a pristine liquid that maintains the same properties it did those thousands of years ago (side note, you should Google “Lofoten Islands,” because ohmygod, gorgeous). The company Lofoten even worked with the Norwegian government to address concerns about fracking in their country, according to Mills, and is, furthermore, a carbon-negative operation. Not only that, but the bottle is so regularly counterfeited due to the water’s sheer excellence, the company has been forced to include a QR code on each one to ensure it’s the real deal.

The Socosani water comes from the Peruvian Andes, where it bubbles up from spring sources that dot the path of an underground volcano. OK, that sounds faux-thrilling for a story about water, but it’s true, and it’s weirdly romantic. When Mills popped the cap off this also-naturally-carbonated water, it bubbled and fizzed for several minutes before quieting. Its journey through subterranean lava rocks and such proved more than worth it, as Socosani not only tastes incredibly clean and distinct, but sort of bright and acidic and mineral-heavy in a satisfying way.

Lastly, we tried Greece’s Souroti, another mildly acidic water with a secret weapon: small amounts of lithium. This one, Mills says, is a personal favorite, and I can see why: After even a few small sips, I felt incredible. Now, we can chalk this up to a very tired reporter finding himself properly hydrated for the first time since 1997, or we can give credit to the lithium. Either way, Mills says, Sourotis is not for everyone and some of her clients have balked at its properties. I, on the other hand, heartily recommend it, both as a flavorful and hydrating water, but as the sort of experience that sticks with you afterwards, all the way to an afternoon coffee date with an old buddy whom you tell about the lithium and then they say you look great, so maybe you should drink some more of that stuff.

So get pumped, because Mills hosts a tasting this week at REMIX featuring that Peruvian volcano water, plus others from Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. Mills particularly notes that the Vichy Catalan brand was a favorite of the artist Mucha, and that the Lurisia water is sourced from a cave deep in the Alps, making it one of the purest waters available. Which brings us to another point: Pricing is a bit of a moving target. One must think of these waters almost like they think of wine, and Mills will have more information about what costs what, what is available and so on at the event. For real, though, any pricepoint is fair to feel so quenched.

Fine Water Tasting with Marti Mills: 11 am Saturday, June 25. $35 REMIX Audio Bar 101 W Marcy St., (505) 803-1949

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