-- Whether Stephanie Marinello is working out at the gym or sitting at home, she is never without a bottle of water, but never from the tap.
Marinello, a lifestyle consultant living in Los Angeles, prefers to drink a “designer water” brand called Beverly Hills 9OH2O, the kind that costs up to $6 a bottle. She uses the expensive water in everything, from making ice to cooking.
“It is kind of a lot but it’s something I work with in my budget to make an exception for because I think it’s a vital thing,” Marinello said. “At the end of the day, it’s what you’re putting into your body … I’m paying for the quality.”
Bottled water is big business in the U.S., with over 10 billion gallons produced every year. The regulation of bottled water was called into question this week when Niagara Bottling company voluntarily recalled 14 brands of bottled spring water produced at two Pennsylvania plants over possible E.coli contamination. The company said Tuesday they hadn't received any complaints about illness or injury, but issued the recall out of caution.
But the popularity for water served in its purest form or mixed with an exclusive blend of minerals has many bottled water brands and restaurants hoping to cash in on a luxury goods opportunity.
Beverly Hills 9OH2O is crafted by German-born Martin Riese, who says he is the only certified water sommelier in the United States.
Riese said he uses water from a mountain spring in California’s Sierra Nevada and adds different “natural minerals” to it to create what he calls the “Champagne of water.”
“I’m just adding natural minerals and this was very important again for me,” he said. “I don’t filter anything out of this water. I just want to add the perfect mineral mix to make it extremely healthy with an amazing smooth mouth feel.”
Beverly Hills 9OH2O is only made in batches of 10,000 bottles to preserve quality, much like how fine wines are made, and its blue bottles include UV protection. Its "Luxury Collection" retails for $5.99 and is sold for $12 on restaurant menus, and its "Lifestyle Collection" retails for $1.59 and is sold for $3 on restaurant menus.
Beverly Hills Drink Company co-founder and president Jon Gluck calls this “sommelier-crafted H20” worth every drop.
“We call it the ultimate water – this is the first water product with everything in one bottle,” Gluck said. “It takes years to develop, a serious investment, world class talent, and ambitious vision.”
There is now a growing industry subset emerging for luxury water aimed at catering to clientele with high-end lifestyles. Water with price points ranging from $8 to $20 a bottle are even starting to appear on restaurant menus.
The Los Angeles-based restaurant Patina has a water menu — yes, a water menu — that is 48 pages long and includes household names like Perrier and Evian to $20-per-bottle imported glacier water.
The restaurant regularly hosts water tastings with six bottled of water to try. The price was $50 a head, and it was sold out. Riese recently served as the sommelier at one of these events.
“Twenty dollars is the most expensive bottle what we have here today at the Patina restaurant and this is our 50,000-year-old glacier water from Greenland Berg,” Riese said. “They don’t produce so many bottles … [so] you’re getting something very, very unique.”
When tasting water, Riese said he looks for color, carbonation, how many minerals are in the water, among other things.
“Everyone has their own special power on this planet,” he said. “Obviously my power is to detect different nuances of water.”
Riese said he prefers to drink bottled water brands over tap.
“My palette doesn’t like it, therefore I don’t drink it,” he said.
And with hosting water tastings in the midst of the California drought, there are questions of social responsibility. But Riese argues that his water tastings actually raise awareness about water’s importance.
“Through my water classes, people are starting to realize that water has value, and maybe we should stop wasting it,” he said.
Marinello and Riese say luxury bottled water is the wave of the future.
“It should be a movement and it is a movement I think, because I see the reaction of the people,” he said. “Let’s push it a little more. It’s so healthy for everybody.”