In researching water in both both distilled spirits and at serving, I came across Martin Riese, a water sommelier. He is the General Manager at Ray's & Stark, a restaurant located at the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA).
He is developing a water program for the restaurant, and has his own water brand, hilariously called Beverly Hills 9OH2O.
I asked him for an email interview and he kindly consented. The interview is below, slightly modified in some places for clarity.
How did you become a water sommelier?
I had in 2005 the idea to create a water menu in the restaurant which I worked (in Germany). We had 1500 different wines and I always thought we needed to have a selection of waters to pair with the wines. The idea was a huge success, we started with 14 different waters and we ended up with over 40. I could almost not believe how different all the waters can taste and which impact they had to the wine and food experience.
The media attention which I received gave me the name of water sommelier. So, I do not have really a certification as a water sommelier but I learned learned everything during the job and during a lot of tastings and matching.
Where else are there water sommeliers in the USA?
I've known that for several years a hotel in New York had a water sommelier, but I don't know of a list or other water sommeliers who are working in the restaurant industry right now.
What will the water program be like at Ray’s & Starck?
The hardest thing right now for me is not to create the water menu, it is to get the waters into the United States. We are not talking about the regular waters which you can get in every grocery store like Voss or Fiji. I want to show my guests the variety of waters like Iskilde from Denmark, which has a very unique earth taste, or Vichy Catalan which is very salty and high in minerals.
The program at Ray's will feature around 20 different mineral waters. It will be not a regular list; it will be more like a small book with a lot of information. Every water will get one whole page with a picture of the bottle, the mineral content, a small chart how the water will taste,; and a story about the water, where the spring is and why the water is so unique.
I read the book Fine Waters [read about that here and here and here]. Do you categorize water in the same way as the author Michael Mascha? What do you do or how do you think differently than he does?
I highly respect Michael Mascha. He was one of the first ones here in America who realized how important is to drink the right water. And exactly that is the challenge here in America. For 99 percent of Americans, is water just water. In Europe people have a different background on the topic water. Just in Germany we have over 580 different water brands. People are very aware of the difference in water.
In America most of the time guests order tap water, with ice and lemon. Here in Los Angeles, tap water is filtered so the mineral content is very low, and chlorine is added for sanitary reasons. Imagine now you enjoying a great red wine with a good amount of tannins. The chlorine of the tap water will overpower the fruit nuances, the extremely chilled-down water will completely ruin your experience, and the acidity of the lemon is not pairing with the tannins of the red wine.
I like to help my guests and it is amazing for me to see how wines and spirits can change by just the right water which you are drinking beside it.
I’m concerned more with water and spirits more than water and food pairings. Have you explored that very much?
My main focus was always pairing water with food and wines. When I started at Ray's & Stark Bar I met Paul Sanguinetti my mixologist (and the restaurant's sommelier). It was amazing that we both shared the same ideas and it was amazing for me to explore the different waters with different spirits.
Some distillers say that you should serve/dilute whisky only with low or medium TDS (totally dissolved solids, the mineral content) levels. In Fine Waters, he also recommends staying away from high TDS waters with mixed drinks. Why is that?
I agree for whisky. High TDS waters have a very strong own taste, they can be almost salty. You want to enjoy the original taste of the whisky and you do not want to alienate the taste with the high minerals.
But in mixed drinks it can be very interesting and I think there is a lot to explore for the bartenders and mixologists here in LA. The taste of water can be used to bring the cocktail to the next level. For example, the same cocktail made with a low mineral water will be more likely smooth, with a high mineral water you will add some spice to it.
I am always giving the example of the movie Ratatouille, where the rat is explaining the different taste with colors. One mineral has the color red, the other green, add the different taste of the spirits, like blue and yellow, together it can become a firework. But be careful, by adding to many colors (different tastes), the colors are not bright any more .
Do you have an opinion on ideal brands (or styles) of water for drinks such as the Scotch and Soda? Vodka Soda?
Lots of people think that mineral water is automatically soda water. That is not true, mineral water can be still or with carbonation. Soda water is a water which has a high content of CO2, and that is exactly the most important thing for mixing it with drinks.
When you would use a mineral water which has a medium content of CO2, the mixed drink would not have enough carbonation. I think every single bartender should choose his favorite brand. Just do the test, buy several soda waters , taste them by themselves and then make the same cocktail with different soda waters. For sure every single bartender will find the right soda water for there concept.
I prefer a water with a medium mineral content, to give the drinks some support, but every bar should do a tasting and they will come up with the 'right" water.
I’ve been playing around with individual components of mineral waters. I’m wondering if you have tasting notes for individual mineral salts in water: sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, etc. Or have feelings about waters that contain a lot of any one of them.
The mix of different minerals in each water is interesting. That's the reason water has such a big variety from salty to smooth, from bitter to sweet. Just minerals by themselves have following tastes:
Sodium = salty
Calcium = bitter, sour - actually calcium has his own taste which scientist discovered several years ago
Magnesium = slightly bitter
Potassium = salty - sour
Beverly Hills 90H2O
I asked Riese for information about his water brand. The below is from the press release with additional info from Riese.
Actually that is the amazing thing, when you drink the water it feels like a very low mineral water, but it has a good amount of minerals to be the perfect match with good wines, spirits and food
Beverly Hills 9OH2O, World’s First Sommelier-Crafted Water, Launched Globally
Inspired by the crafting of champagne and fine spirits, a team of fine dining experts led by the world's preeminent water sommelier Martin Riese has created Beverly Hills 9OH2O, the world’s first sommelier-crafted water.
Pristine spring water from the Northern California Mountains is crafted with natural minerals using a proprietary patent-pending formula. It is designed to have the ultimate taste profile, and is best enjoyed gently chilled to 59°F. The resulting masterpiece is alkaline, highly balanced, and the perfect pairing to fine foods and wines.
Beverly Hills 9OH2O is made available in limited editions of 10,000 individually numbered glass bottles. Each edition features unique custom art, making every bottle also a highly desirable gift and prized collectable.
The water is available for purchase online for the rate of $164 for a 12-bottle case of liters.
The Water Project on Alcademics is research into water in spirits and in cocktails, from the streams that feed distilleries to the soda water that dilutes your highball. The research for the project is supported by Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. For all posts in the project, visit the project index page.