A fine bottle of vintage … um, water? | NevadaAppeal.com

A fine bottle of vintage … um, water?

Barry Smith

There are ideas that make you smack your head and say, “Why didn’t I think of that first?”

And then there are ideas just too dumb to work – and yet they’re succeeding beyond the realm of reasonable expectation.

One of those has to be the sale of bottled water.

In the West, we realize the value of water. But we generally thought if it by the acre-foot, or the cubic foot per second, in massive quantities stored behind dams or flowing down the riverbeds during spring runoff.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of people on wells whose water doesn’t taste like it flowed from a clear mountain stream. They are in the habit of buying drinking water in bulk, trucking it in or hoisting one of those big bottles off the rack at the grocery.

Some cities have less-than-tasty water, too, but Carson City isn’t one of them. Water here tastes great.

And I realize in our go-go world, the convenience of having a handy water bottle for those joggers and walkers and, well, folks just too involved to get up from the sofa, the individual-size servings are a convenience.

Of course, we used to use refillable bottles. At one point, we used to call them canteens.

Even realizing those advantages, though, in a simpler time I would have been skeptical of trying to sell water to my fellow human beings. What would people pay? A nickel? A dime? Would it even cover the cost of the bottle to try and sell something that flows out of the tap for free?

Today, we now know the bottled-water industry is selling $8.3 billion worth of free water a year. It sells for more than a gallon of gasoline, even though in most places you can still walk in the convenience-store door and fill up your canteen at no charge.

None of this really struck me, though, until I read the other day that PepsiCo, the leading seller of free water with Aquafina, is thinking of launching a new line of discount water.

This actually made me sit up in my chair and slap my forehead. Not hard, but enough to jiggle my brain back into place.

I tried to imagine Joe Consumer in the supermarket aisle making his bottled-water decision.

“Let’s see. I can’t really afford the higher-priced line of water. But I know I need to buy a case of bottled water because, well, I can’t just drink the free stuff flowing out of the tap. So maybe I’ll try this new brand, H2Oh!, because it has an attractive label, a catchy name and is less expensive than the other water.”

He picks up a case and takes it home to the family.

“Yup. This tastes just like water. I can’t even tell the difference between this and the high-priced brand. Of course, I can’t tell the difference between the high-priced brand and the water flowing out of the tap, but at least this way I’m saving money.”

I know what you’re saying. You can tell the difference in the taste. Some water just tingles the taste buds a little better than other water.

Therein lies an entirely new field of endeavor, and you can thank me if you make a career out of it. Send me residuals if you feel particularly grateful.

That new career would be, of course, the water connoisseur. The snooty, sniffing, drop-on-the-tongue, ascot-wearing water connoisseur, to be specific.

Write books, newspaper columns, start entirely new magazines – all devoted to the sensitive art of detecting a particular bouquet, lingering drama, scintillating aroma, of a fine bottle of water.

Maybe people already do this, but I think there’s still room to get in on the ground floor.

Besides, it’s where the industry is headed. Coca-Cola Co., No. 2 in the bottled water world with Dasani, is running ads showing hip young swingers sipping their bottled water at a nightclub.

The next logical step is a Water List at the table, so you can choose not only a brand but a year and a region.

Waiter: “We have a particularly delightful 1992 Arctic, bottled from a glacier in Alaska. It’s $9 for the glass or $27.50 for the bottle.”

You: “Ummm. I think we’ll just have a couple of glasses of the house water.”

Waiter: (sniffing petulantly) “Very good, sir. That will be $2.50 each.”

Your only revenge will be to wait for him to bring it to the table, pass the glass once or twice beneath your nose and work up your face into a scowl.

“I think I might detect … could it be … possibly … a faint scent of chlorine?”

The waiter reacts in horror. You send it back.

It’s the future. Next I’m going to try to figure out how to set up franchises for pay drinking fountains.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or editor@nevadaappeal.com.