The first time I realized there was such thing as a water sommelier was at the 2019 Hot Springs Connection, a conference held in Indian Wells and Desert Hot Springs, California. I was the room moderator for a panel presented by the Balneology Association of North America and spear-headed by the organization’s president, Janet Abbott, a water sommelier.
Abbott also led a water tasting featuring five California waters from Mission Springs, Palomar Springs, Carlsbad Springs, Castle Rock Springs and Tahoe Artesian Springs. When the 2018 conference was held in Glenwood Springs, she featured Colorado waters from a local spring and the drinking springs in Manitou Springs.
Raised in western New York south of Niagara Falls, Abbott describes a childhood in an area blessed with water and bountiful springs. “I grew up on beautiful, pristine water,” she says. Abbott began studying with the Fine Water Academy in 2018, created that same year by two well-known water sommeliers, Michael Mascha and Martin Riese, who were trained in Germany.
“The profession lines up closely with a wine sommelier but still adds an element of surprise for people. How do you taste water?” Abbott explains, “You have to understand the story and source, spend time and practice. Soon, your palate starts to define tastes and compositions. … Water also has age and vintage.”
Abbott prefers to have at least 1.5 hours to provide an overview, tell the story of each water and allow participants to sample the waters “easily and gracefully.” She says, “It is possible to buy water like a fine bottle of wine, and water can be used as an aperitif and digestif.”
Another exciting development for water sommeliers is that “we are starting to turn people around to make water part of the meal and to actually taste it,” Abbott says.
When introducing water to participants, they could be drinking water that is 10,000-plus years old or only a couple months old. “We are drinking time,” she emphasizes, “and that idea takes water to a new position in our brain and our lives on this planet.”