"Voss" could be the name of a cult European fashion designer. It could be the name of a guy in an 80s synth-pop trio. But it's not. It's water—overpriced, overrated, bottled water.
Photo via the VOSS Facebook page
Selecting a drink is no matter to be taken lightly. The right drink can bring even the most slumping, sauced-up, drunken fuckhead back to life, animating him through another dance, puke-free. Every beverage has its moment, and it’s on you to seize it.
When sparring with the fridge contents of a convenience store in an affluent area of Bristol, England, I set out to choose just the right drink. But I sensed an unfamiliar presence dealing me a look of thinly veiled disdain, like a distant, snooty relative silently judging my lifestyle choices.
I doubled back, looked down, and laughed at Voss looking right back at me, a bottled water with a superiority complex.
If someone had inexplicably set out to create a parody of a pretentious bottled water, Voss might be a little on the nose. The weighty, shimmering column is more farcically grandiose than this sentence. It's more of a silver-plated water feature than it is a bottle. The cylindrical glass tower could be an early-22nd-century hamster urn or a time capsule that a terminally ill, eccentric millionaire would demand to have his sperm cryogenically frozen in.
Photo via Flickr user Foodista
Here is a bottle that would think itself drastically overqualified to moonlight as a barroom bludgeon. A bottle that simply wouldn’t be caught dead playing host to a Molotov cocktail, for this is a bottle with aspirations. A Voss bottle daydreams of spending retirement filling the void water left with a miniature model ship, or an ornately scrolled haiku, as it bobs aimlessly upon the ocean. It's a receptacle designed to wet the whistle of gullible suckers whose money and sense have been distributed wildly unevenly.
Then there’s the title—Voss (or VOSS, if they had their damn way). It’s named after an unrelated Norwegian town, presumably because it’s a sleek and sexy-sounding syllable. The water itself hails from Iveland, in Southern Norway, where they say it's gently coaxed from the teat of some omniscient aqua-deity. Voss, Voss, Voss—say it aloud couple of times. It sashays off the tongue like it was walking into a party, like it was sauntering on to a yacht. It’s an almost painfully try-hard attempt to rebrand that everyday transparent fluid, vital to human survival, as something elegant, cool, and classy.
Voss, Norway. Which actually has no relation to Voss water. Photo via Flickr user Eric Østlie
Voss. It could be something exciting. It could be a pseudonym a cult European fashion designer might spontaneously adopt, enforcing its use immediately. It could be a slang term a Swedish tabloid has wrongly grabbed hold of to fuel hysteria around some rare, bizarre sexual practice involving liquid nitrogen. It could be the uglier third of a washed-up 80s synth-pop trio, who now props up a bar slurring his peak chart position at anyone who’ll let him.
But it’s not. It’s water. The soggy, see-through stuff that makes up 80 percent of our bodies. And don’t let the shameless marketing dupe you—it’s been shot out of a million potentially inflamed urethras before it reaches your dumb, parched yap.
The price tag is audacious for a few uppity gulps. It's upwards of $2.20 for 375 ml (just over a can’s worth) or $3.80 for 800 ml. As with all dumb fucking brands, the ridiculous pricing is contributing to its perceived exclusivity and worth. What could justify that price tag? Maybe I’d splash out that kind of dollar for 0.375L of the Dalai Lama’s used hot-tub juices, or Kathie Lee Gifford’s warm spittle, or water that would grant eternal life... or drown Carson Daly.
It is said that if you cup an empty Voss bottle to your ear, you can just about make out the faint echoes of the marketing team struggling to stifle their snickering at you.
Imagine the the concept of Voss being pitched to investors: "You see, VOSS isn’t just water. VOSS is a lifestyle. Think water, but think purity, think sophistication, think elegance. One does not simply drink VOSS. One experiences VOSS." (I wrote that in jest and since found it to be scarily close to the actual Voss "brand values"—purity, distinction, and responsibility.)
Who's swallowing this nonsense? Apparently, the world's sophisticates. “VOSS, with its iconic design, is served on the tables of the finest restaurants and lounges, in the rooms of the most distinctive hotels and in the homes of the most demanding water drinkers around the world," claims VOSS World.
The whole Voss "vision" is so laughably ridiculous, I could almost buy it every day as a shitty little inside joke with myself. I wonder what percentage of Voss’s annual revenue comes from ironic purchases?
Photo via Flickr user R.E. Barber
Anyway, back at the convenience store, I was blessed with a sip. It was wet, and it was cold. Maybe my palate has been dulled by the chlorine, fluoride, and cocaine that tainted my tap water, but I could taste no discernible difference. Oh, that “fresh, clean, quality taste,” of fresh, clean, quality, watery water. Drinking it left the regrettable aftertaste of a fortnight I spent smugly preaching the irrefutable benefits of Brita filtered water, before finding out the filter wasn‘t attached. I too, got caught up and deluded in the refreshment placebo matrix.
Voss boasts just 44 parts per million of Total Dissolve Solids—among the lowest TDS ppm in the water game. That said, I’ve personally never had an issue with water being particularly solid. Never has anyone stepped up to dislodge a clog of waterborne sediment from my windpipe with a timely Heimlich maneuver.
One of the details that Voss loves to harp on is how it springs majestically up from the earth via an artesian source: It rises naturally from a natural confined, underground aquifer and is naturally filtered, free of contact with the air or other pollutants, naturally. However, the documentary A Drop of Luxury, produced by Norwegian channel TV2, disputed Voss’s claims. After consulting with leading hydrogeologists, who said that Voss’s supply couldn’t possibly be artesian, they suggested that Voss water is identical to the municipal water supply, with which those lucky devils of Iveland are purifying their bits and bobs daily. The Voss overlords were a tad miffed and released a statement denying the allegations. Regardless, whether it's artesian or filling Norwegian baths, glamorizing the hefty markup of drinking water is a murky hustle.
Voss water is probably the same as the water in your bathtub. Photo via the VOSS Facebook page
The Voss Facebook page is a ritzy slideshow of scenes glossily exhibiting "the Voss lifestyle." It shows the upper echelon, these so-called “most demanding water drinkers around the world,” supping down Voss, brandishing Voss, foxtrotting with Voss in an array of glittering locations.
Then there’s a worrying, cultish swamp of impassioned Voss purists, devotedly commenting, fully wrapped up in the deluded vision they’re being tactlessly flogged.
“This picture is so refreshing, craving for a voss bottle right now. God bless voss. #GBV”
Worse still are the tacky images attempting to draw a connection between this prestigious tube of H2O and the musings of Leornado Da Vinci, Audrey Hepburn, and others.
A Voss water bottle poses on Itacoatiara Beach in Brazil. Photo via the VOSS Facebook page
In Voss’s defense, they are carbon-neutral and have set up a charitable foundation, providing water to third-world countries, which can’t be overlooked (although the charity-water is presumably not Voss-standard). The advantage of globally fleecing dimwits for snazzy, well-traveled water (potentially of the tap variety) is that you can comfortably cover your mileage and hydrate some sub-Saharan kids while laughing your way to the bank.
They’ve successfully managed, it seems, to repackage a basic human right as a status symbol. Whose thirst for social elevation is this liquid pretentiousness quenching? Spare a thought for those poor, deluded saps, twisting that cap, breaking that prestigious authentication seal as if uncorking the last known bottle of 1787 Château Margaux. Picture them glancing around, showboating subtly, ensuring their grip isn’t obstructing the label, dying for an opportunity to bring it up. Fully loaded with, "Oh God, yeah, I made the move to Voss six months ago, and I just haven’t looked back. You know, you just can’t put a price on purity. You really can’t."
If you catch anyone non-ironically drinking Voss, laugh hard and true, right in their refreshed smirk. It could be tricky to distinguish, so probably best to laugh indiscriminately and spitefully, gauge their reaction and make a valid knee-jerk judgment on their human worth.
Follow Sam Briggs on Twitter.
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