Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Van Winkle of Water

I used to know a lot of people who competed in triathlons. The triathlon culture seemed to be as much about shopping as it was about athletic competition. Instead of buying stuff for just one sport, you could buy stuff for three!

I thought of the triathlon people when I saw this picture and the attached article. It is on the Tales of the Cocktail web site and all over my Facebook newsfeed. The author describes a tasting that compared the effect of Old Limestone in bourbon with tap water and distilled water. It was a serious effort and the article is a good read.

All of which may be beside the point. This sort of product sells to people who just love to buy stuff. When they develop a new enthusiasm, buying the accouterments is some or maybe even most of the fun. I've known people who, upon deciding to try country line dancing for the first time, went out first and bought boots, a hat, etc.

It's about liking to buy things but also about having what they consider the total experience. The whiskey enthusiasm is no different. Some people can't wait to buy the special whiskey tasting glasses and all the rest. Surely there must be a special water to use, to enhance the experience. The next thing will be a whiskey tasting jacket.

Many distilleries as far back as the 1950s have done branded bottled water. If you have a productive spring and an under-used bottling line, it's practically a no-brainer. Stitzel-Weller did it, there are still a few bottles of 'Weller Water' around. Nobody has ever had a big hit with it, but these are unusual times. Calling it 'mixing water' is a clever wrinkle, makes it sound like a thing. People who inherently like to buy this sort of item need only the smallest push.

But come on, it's water. If you use water in your whiskey, the same water you drink and cook with will be just fine. If it tastes okay to you on its own it will taste okay in your whiskey. If you are noticing off flavors in your drink, by all means change your water, but there are plenty of other quality bottled waters.

Objectively, the problem with 'whiskey water' is that your water doesn't have to match your whiskey, it has to match you and your taste. Do you drink water? Then you already know what you like. It's not broke so don't fix it.

Unless you just like to buy things. In which case go right ahead. It's good for the economy.


Hoke Harden said...

I was in retail in Texas back in the 80s, and we sold a pretty fair amount of "Weller Water". The W.L. Weller (and at the time Rebel Yell) was popular there and when we co-displayed we got more than a few extra sales.

I tried the water. It was...water. The only possible way to justify it for me was if the local tapwater was heavily chlorinated, or if lake water-sourced when the lake "turned over" seasonally and the water began to taste funky.

In Portland, Oregon, our water is so good (and still unflouridated thanks to the particular nature of Porltandiens) that no bottled water is needed, and certainly not for whiskey.

Unknown said...

I bet if they labeled it 'gluten free' they would sell even more! LOL

Richnimrod said...

How about; 'Fat Free', 'Boneless', 'All Natural', 'Non-GMO'....
I must be a marketing genius...or not; since I'm giving all this wisdom away free on the interweb?

Unknown said...

First off, blame the distilleries. What whiskey tour have you taken in the last, well...ever where at some point they haven't waxed poetic about how their magic limestone filtered magic spring water is the primary ingredient that makes their bourbon so pure and fabulous.

Second, I just checked the cost of this. On Amazon you can get a 6x1L case for 18 bucks. So it's 3 bucks a liter. Which is about the same cost as a Penta or a Voss or any other fancy bottled water. This is cheaper than you'd get water at a sports event or restaurant. Why single this one out so harshly?

Harry said...

Several years ago, a well-known (at least in the industry) mixologist here in WashDC stated during an interview that he preferred some bottled waters over others when designing/making cocktails;some waters worked better than other depending on the cocktail due to the minerals, pH, etc., of each. The article containing the statement mentioned some websites (several now defunct) containing the mineral breakdowns of worldwide bottled waters. It seems that those trace minerals, and the varying pH of the waters did have an effect on taste. Having nothing better to do with my time, I did side-by-sides of Old Fashioneds with ice made from different bottled still waters. I could taste real differences. Well, sometimes. I also learned from the tests, which I applied to barrel strength whiskeys, that local tap water works just fine when I am not in a mood for thinking too hard about which water goes with which whiskey.

Anonymous said...

Living at the coast, our water is not the greatest. I use whatever the least expensive store brand spring water is for splashes or large ice cubes. Whether it really makes a difference or not, I have no idea.

MadMex said...

Speaking of triathlons and triathletes, this one paid around $100,000 to compete in Ironman including hiring a private chef and then flew to Hawaii his coach, massage and physical therapist. And you can't forget to bring along the family. I'm pretty sure he was drinking Van Winkle Water to hydrate throughout the race. He probably loves shopping too, as Chuck stated. said...

I received this water from my girlfriend along with a bottle of Woodford Reserve for my birthday. Yes on the Woodford (one of my favorites), but the water was just water. I can't believe the price she paid for being thoughtful and the quality was no different from "our Florida tap water".