Everything about bottled water is inherently wrong: Its packaging and transport do unjustifiable harm to the environment—the Earth Policy Institute estimates 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to make the water bottles Americans go through each year—and the ritzier brands have become hateful status symbols. Despite all that, Michael Mascha’s unintentionally hilarious book Fine Waters reports that Americans drink 18 gallons of bottled water per capita annually. Chances are, you will find yourself drinking from a plastic bottle at least once this summer, so we’ve taken some of the guesswork out of choosing from the 3,000 brands on the market with an elaborately constructed, blind taste test. Our selection criteria were as follows:
To make the test as sustainability-friendly as possible, we drank only locally. Everyone loves Portland’s tap water, so the best brand was pitted against our kitchen faucet to settle the dispute.
Our bracket was organized in order of price. Because there were six brands, the two cheapest received a bye, just for making water that much more accessible. The taste test was performed blind, and judgments were based on flavor alone. Here are the results, from worst to best:
Oregon Rain - Oregon air space (99 cents, whole foods)
A novel concept, Oregon Rain is rainwater collected on specialized “rain farms” with sterile collection sheets spread over the ground, bringing the luxury of bottled water to new heights. With no potential of gaining a sense of “terroir,” this water tends to taste like, well, nothing.
Tasting notes: “Even for water, this is bland.”
Waterworks - Forest Grove (89 cents, whole foods)
Calcium, magnesium and potassium are added to this water to amp up its health quotient, making it a very hard mineral water. The result, not surprisingly, is a slight chalkiness to the taste. Questions were raised by the curious expiration date printed on the bottle and this disclaimer on the water’s website: “Contains no harmful elements.”
Tasting notes: “Faint taste of raspberries.”
Moda - a protected spring in the Oregon Coast Range ($1.29, whole foods)
Bottled water for the fashion-conscious, Moda operates a website that displays the sleek-looking bottles on a catwalk. The water’s source, somewhere in the Oregon Coast Range, is described on the bottle as “protected,” so much so that giving it a name would be revealing too much. In the company’s defense, its product is all-local. Every aspect of Moda is based in Northwest Oregon. If only the water tasted better.
Tasting notes: “Like drinking saline solution.”
Earth2O - Opal Springs ($1.49 per gallon, plaid pantry)
Sold by the gallon at Plaid Pantry, Earth2O was by far the cheapest water in the taste test—equivalent to a measly 20 cents per 500 milliliter bottle. The Sweetwater Company claims the depth of its source, Opal Springs, gives the water its purity.
Tasting notes: “Plain, old water-cooler filler.”
Bull Run Water - taps at Hot Lips pizza ($1.25)
Why does a pizza chain sell water they bottle themselves? “Because, frankly, it is the best water in the world,” they say. That might not be grounds for bottling the same stuff you shower with, but there is a higher purpose at work here. Bull Run was produced during National Drinking Water Week, which promotes drinking tap water instead of globally shipped swill. All net profits go to drinking-water advocacy.
Tasting Notes: “Tastes like metal”
Langenburg Red - Eugene ($2.29, whole foods)
Langenburg’s label is chock-full of marketing buzzwords and “science.” “Structurally restored”? “Microclustered for hydration”? This malarkey certainly doesn’t justify the price, but the taste does. No characteristics that remind you of anything but pure, clean water. The price tag, however, makes this a bottled water you bring out only when guests come over.
Tasting notes: “Woody, with a superior aftertaste.”
Langenburg Red vs. PDX municipal
Call your bookie, gents: Langenburg crushed our beloved tap water in a near-unanimous vote. Say what you will about plastic bottles poisoning the earth—Langenburg’s “oxygen” water might just taste better than what comes out of pipes laid when Stumptown was still covered in stumps.