How did you foray into the mineral water industry?
Back in the 90’s I was fresh out of college. I started with a short stint in an organisation which had nothing to do with beverages and soon found myself attracted to the workings of the hotel and restaurant industry and their offerings. I got a huge break to work for a brand like Evian through their channel partner to cater to the HORECA segment. I learnt the ropes of handling an elementary beverage like water but in the luxury segment. Then I went on to launch various beverage brands like Himalayan, Ferrarelle, Perrier, Qua and in between had two successful stints with alcobev companies like Diageo and Moet Hennessy and finally with VEEN for the last eight years.
What does it mean to be a certified water sommelier?
Fabulous, I guess. Somehow after having spent close to over two decades in the field of alcobev and non alcobev and having had the distinction of being part of teams that launched six different brands of natural mineral waters and sparkling waters in India from the 90s with VEEN being the seventh water brand, I believe that it was the right time to validate these learnings through DOEMENS AcademyGräfelfing Munich which is rated as one of the best academies to get yourself accredited as a water sommelier.
What is the training process like?
Training includes classroom sessions and factory visits in a span of a week to ten days. Classroom sessions essentially consist of understanding water, its origin, the scope, and its relevance, not just for the culinary environment but also at large. It also includes tasting and sensory sessions to dissect each mineral in the water, their range and their interpretation based on the various flavours it has to offer and the mouthfeel that it lends and finally the after taste. Factory visits are more led from a historical or a legacy view point of that particular brand of water, and the various steps that the brand has taken over the years in terms of the factory design, the packaging, the new offerings, etc.
How do you detect, recognise and differentiate between types of water? How would you describe the nuances of water?
Water has different characteristics to offer. In terms of classification, you have packaged drinking water and natural mineral water. Packaged drinking water has not much to offer. It does not have a story that’s worth talking about except the fact that its purified water (with no natural minerals), and would just quench your thirst. However, with regard to natural mineral water, there’s a whole new world that exists because you can detect, recognise, and differentiate traits like vintage, hardness, pH level, virginality, and TDS which makes the experience very unique and these are at different levels for each of the mineral water brands and that is why each of the Fine Waters have something interesting to offer. There are waters which have high levels of calcium like in the case of VEEN from Bhutan. ROI from Slovenia has a TDS of almost 7,500 mg per bottle and has the highest amount of magnesium ever found in mineral water. Likewise the TDS of the VEEN water from Finland is anything between 15-17 mg per bottle which makes it one of the smoothest waters on earth.
What are the challenges that you had to face as a water sommelier?
Internationally, water sommeliers today—with the presence of Fine Waters—are at par with wine sommeliers, so much so that there are water menus created by these sommeliers which offer Fine Waters with food and spirits. In the Indian context, the hotel and restaurant fraternity is slowly opening up to the relevance and importance of water sommeliers, as a specialist who could help and drive not just revenue but also a complete dining experience of water and food. There aren’t any specific challenges on ground, but yes, there’s still a mental block about water amongst a few hoteliers and restaurateurs with their banal and skewed mindset.
Can you tell us a little bit about the opportunities that might open up for water sommeliers in the future?
Opportunities are galore for water sommeliers not just because of the fact that it sounds fancy, but to consider that 80% of all beverages consist of water and thereby water and water sommeliers deserve far more respect and due under the sun. One can become an independent water sommelier and offer consultation services with regard to the scope of natural mineral water and their subsequent impact on wines and spirits. Just like a premium hotel or restaurant would have their inhouse wine sommelier, they could have a water sommelier who would offer them these services to enhance their overall dining experience not just with wines and spirits pairing but also pairings with water.
Can you share a few tips on food and water pairings?
Yes. In the case of a barbequed fish, the ideal accompaniment can be a standard natural mineral water which has a good amount of TDS or also sparkling water which has heavy bubbles. The idea behind this pairing is that the mouthfeel of the delicacy should not overpower the water. Sushi goes perfectly well with sparkling water that is low on carbonation and has smaller bubbles. If one would like to enjoy a caviar it is best to have it with sparkling water that has absolutely no sodium in it. And if you prefer cheese then the ideal accompaniment of natural mineral water would be the one that has high levels of bicarbonate.