In addition to its world-class buds, British Columbia can now boast of its top-tier tap water after reclaiming the title of best tap water in the world this year at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting event. The Clearbrook neighbourhood of Abbotsford, a city just north of the US border, picked up first place for "Best Municipal Water."
The award was handed out at the 26th annual competition in West Virginia in February, alongside awards for bottled, sparkling, and purified water.
The judging portion is done through blind tastings, and the panelists assess up to 20 water samples on a variety of metrics, including taste, odor, appearance, and mouthfeel. Michael Cervin, a food and wine (and water) critic who has attended the event as a judge since 2009, told MUNCHIES that this is the first year he's ever given out a perfect score—and it was the Clearbrook municipality that took the honors.
"It's hard to describe, but there is a crisp, clean, pure, authentic taste to this water," he said.
This may have been the first year that he gave Clearbrook a perfect score, but it's certainly not the first time that the community's water has medalled—gold, silver, and bronze just like the Olympics—at the event.
A list of winners supplied to MUNCHIES shows that Clearbrook's municipal water has made appearances seven times since 2009. Three of those years it received the gold medal award and the title of best in the world.
Arthur von Wiesenberger, an expert on water who has been writing, researching, and consulting in the industry since the 1970s, and who also serves as Berkeley Springs' "water master" told MUNCHIES, "I think what it really goes back to is that a lot of the water in Canada starts out good. If you have a quality water source that is clean and pure and healthful, then you don't need to change the chemistry of the water."
Both Cervin and Von Wiesenberger pointed out that, except for a few returning members, the judging panel changes every year, so it is quite a feat for any municipality to be a perennial favourite.
"What that says to me," explains Cervin, "is that groups of people over years who have no affiliation or association with each other find this particular water to be of impeccable quality."
And if you think judging water is easy, think again. Of course there are obvious flavor and odor cues that anyone can pick up on—chlorine, metal, and "swampiness" from algae are all no-nos—but individual mineral components have much more nuanced effects.
Acidity can make a water taste more crisp. Potassium lends a hint of sweetness. The mineral silica will affect body and mouthfeel, giving a slippery or creamy quality.
According to Cervin, what makes Clearbrook's water so special is that none of those elements protrude enough to be obvious. "There is an absence of noticeable distinguishable elements, and in its place is something that is, on the palate, so expressively clean," he says.
But, at the end of the day, isn't it just tap water? We reached out to a few people living in Clearbrook over the phone and asked them to describe the experience of drinking their tap water.
While most were flustered by the request, one chipper girl working at a pub lent a helping hand and poured herself a glass of delicious Clearbrook municipal water.
Pressed to describe the world-renowned liquid, she said, "I like our water. It doesn't really taste like anything."