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Judges of event taste the water

February 24, 2001

Judges of event taste the water



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Floating particles were a no-no. Yellowish tints and chemical flavorings also brought demerits.

As judges in Saturday's International Water Tasting eyed samples in wine glasses and swished them around in their mouths, they gave points for clarity, freshness and even sweetness.

In an event created 11 years ago to draw tourism and publicity to this spa-centered town, more than 100 water samples were taste-tested. Prizes were given in four categories, letting municipal suppliers earn glory alongside commercial bottlers.

Amos, Canada, won the municipal category, beating 21 other finalists. Harpers Ferry/Bolivar and Berkeley Springs from West Virginia and Hancock and Hagerstown (two entries) from Maryland competed, but didn't place.

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In the bottled (noncarbonated) category, Simply Natural Canadian Spring Water of Dorion, Ontario, Canada, came in first. Perrier Sparkling Mineral Water of Nergeze, France, took the top prize in the bottled (carbonated) division.

Claire Baie of Oak Creek, Wis., was voted the best in the purified drinking water category.

Additionally, the judges and the public picked Obi Zulol from the Republic of Tajikistan as having the best packaged water.

Entries came from 26 states, the District of Columbia and 10 foreign countries.

Most judges were from the media, but the panel also had a wine consultant and West Virginia's director of commerce and tourism.

They were drilled beforehand about the finer points of water connoisseurship.

First comes the "visual check," said their instructor, Arthur von Weisenberger, a water consultant for Anheuser Busch and major water companies for more than 20 years. Specks aren't good, but they may be from the cloth that cleaned the glass, he said.

In the "aroma check," swirl the sample and take three short sniffs, holding your nose directly above the glass, judging instructions said.

Von Weisenberger, who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., advised the panel on how to judge taste.

"Take a sip," he said. "Roll it all over your mouth. Cover your palate."

This allows all four sets of taste buds - sweet, salt, bitter, sour - to work.

The judges considered such factors as appearance, odor, flavor, "mouthfeel" and aftertaste.

"Laypeople are perfect judges," von Weisenberger said in an interview after the judging seminar, "because we all drink water and we all make subconscious decisions about what we drink."

He said the competition is especially important to bottlers, who can use the gold medal logo for packaging and marketing.

The Berkeley Springs water tasting, held at the Coolfont resort and spa, may be the only annual event of its type in the world, von Weisenberger said.

Jill Klein Rone, a spokeswoman for the event, said Travel Berkeley Springs began the tasting to draw attention to the region. There were only 14 entrants the first year.

Since then, the event has ballooned. Well-known commercial brands, like Poland Spring and Perrier, submit their products for consideration.

Other entries come from as far away as Syria, Bosnia, Moldavia and Tajikistan.

Most municipal samples arrived in glass gallon jars. Von Weisenberger said glass is a better container than plastic, which can leave an odd flavor in the water.

The public was invited to try to the same water supplies the judges tasted.

After several sips, Mark Barton of Linden, Va., said he preferred water from Kent, Ohio; Atlantic City, N.J.; and Worland, Wyoming.

Barton's sister, Jill, visiting from Tennessee, didn't care for the Berkeley Springs sample, which was in a pickle jar and tasted like pickles, she said.

Hagerstown Councilman William M. Breichner, for whom a city water plant is named, observed the judges from the back of the room. He joked that he was there to guard against cheating and back room deals.

Although Hagerstown hasn't won an award yet, it has a reputation for good water, Breichner said.

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