Greeley takes crown as Keystone hosts state water taste test competition
September 12, 2016
When it comes to our water flavor biases, we're apparently all just a product of our environments.
Now, we're not talking the difference between fresh or salt, tap or bottled, still or seltzer. Rather, it's about the minerals to which we're partial and their concentrations in every chilled glass off the faucet, in addition to the detectible levels of organic materials and potential cleansers to make it taste like, well, water. Which is not to be confused with well water.
"I think it's just what you're accustomed to," said Jon Eaton, a representative of the American Water Works Association. "Somebody in their town will say their water tastes the best, and the next one over says, 'Well, mine tastes the best.' You just get used to something so it's hard to really differentiate."
Eaton was on hand in Keystone on Monday afternoon with other panel members to help decide the state's 2016 champion at the annual water taste-test competition. The winner of the Rocky Mountain Section, which also includes Wyoming and New Mexico, goes on to represent the region at the national conference in Philadelphia next year.
Five judges (full disclosure: this reporter was among the group) went through two rounds of a blind taste test on a 1-to-10 scale of nine of Colorado's best. The entrants included last year's champion, Castle Rock, then Animas to Erie, Brighton to Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, the East Cherry Creek Valley and Denver Water. While there were no local contenders, Denver's blend is arguably Summit County's stand-in because of the area's role as a headwater source and the Front Range pulling a portion from Dillon Reservoir.
Flavors ranged from more mineral-rich to hints of chlorine, as well as simple, tasteless and odorless. There were also a handful that evoked the more abstract senses of clean, crisp and pure. In other words, they all tasted a lot like water.
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Like sommeliers for wine or cicerones for beer, there are indeed certified water tasters that abide by the flavor profiles standards set by the nation's water coalition. The concept may be a little foreign to many concerning a vital resource we so often take for granted, but these individuals' taste receptors help perceive elements in the liquid that more easily tell them H2O, as opposed to H2-"NO."
They're also more sensitive to the variances between hard and soft water. Colorado is typically known for possessing soft water, meaning fewer minerals or dashes of metallics, whereas the East Coast and Midwest are more synonymous with the former.
"It's kind of a funny profile to figure out," said Eaton, who lives in Minnesota. "Sometimes it can border on medicinal. If you get more musty smells, that's more organics that are in the water or disinfectant byproducts, which are usually chlorine reacting with an organic. Well waters are usually hard waters depending on where you are."
This being both Colorado and a jury made up of mostly amateurs, this was a lot more about what tasted customary than attempting to distinguish such subtleties. It was essentially just what sipped familiar, and trying to avoid getting waterlogged or having to run to the restroom.
"We're fortunate in Colorado to all have good water," explained Greg Baker of Aurora's water department. "All the samples were very good, all nine of them. There's some subtle variations, but mostly it's not easy to judge."
The temperature of your gulp is also a factor as to how one receives it. At the national competition where bragging rights are that much greater, each will be removed from a refrigerator at the exact same time and served at room temperature so the contrasts between samples are consistent. On Monday, some were served nearly ice cold — and with them a natural inclination toward refreshment and satisfaction.
After two rounds of head-to-head tastes, the winners were announced in ascending order. First came Animas in southeastern Colorado in third, followed by last year's champ Castle Rock in second and finally top honors going to Greeley. Officials from the latter drank in the win with hoots and hollers from the conference center crowd and were awarded, of course, a first-place pitcher.
Adam Prior, a chief engineer with the City of Greeley, chalked up the victory to the work of the community's operators. That, and plainly that it comes from a good source. And yet ultimately, water preference remains in the tongue of the guzzler.
"It's great to say you're the best tasting water in Colorado," said Eaton. "I always find (judging) kind of hard, because it's so subtle. I actually like hard water, it tastes good to me."
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