Water may be the essence of life, but not all waters taste the same and make life feel more essential. In fact, some bottled waters are downright gag-worthy, resembling what you’d find in a sewer, toilet or the plastic in which they’re packaged. I like to call this phenomenon #H₂NO, though I admittedly take part when options are limited at places like an airport, concert or amusement park.
Ashley Epperson, co-founder of online water purveyor Salacious Drinks, agrees and has made a commitment to curate “hydration that fits your lifestyle.”
“We sell over 30 different brands of water and it should always be dependent on the activity you are doing in your life at the moment,” she recommends.
But seeking a “high-quality” agua should always be priority number one and Epperson advises consumers to follow one simple rule: Look for an ingredient list.
“If it has one, it’s not a natural water. It should simply state the source’s location,” she reveals.
In the interest of really enjoying the beverage that we rely on for survival, I tried a whopping 17 brands to really delve into the flavor nuances of mainstream offerings. I didn’t tap into characteristics like pH balance, reverse osmosis, filtration, mineral and calcium content, etc. because I feel like a good water should speak for itself, especially at a moment’s notice when you simply don’t have the time or patience to make educated drinking decisions. So if you really want the factoids on what makes these bottles healthier or more hydrating than others, you’ll have to conduct some independent research.
That said, I implore anyone reading this week’s taste test to ditch plastic altogether and opt for filtered tap water (though sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures and that’s why we’re here).
Check out which bottles flowed effortlessly into my lineup of go-tos and which I reserved for my houseplants moving forward.
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Pro: A step up from tap water, depending on the city.
Con: Smells horrible … almost sulfuric.
Quick take: Sometimes you’d rather stick your head under a sink than chug this stuff. But it’s A-OK in desperate situations, I suppose.
Pro: It’s not Dasani.
Con: Minerally, salty, very heavy and bitter.
Quick take: If Dasani is a pool of mystery water, Aquafina is the result of chlorination. It tasted downright chemically.
Pro: Light and crisp.
Con: Very mineral-forward.
Quick take: This was light on the tongue and went down with great ease, but that aftertaste … woof. It was as if I had just consumed a calcium chew and then decided to take a giant gulp of water to wash it down.
14. Nestle Pure Life
Pro: Pure, flavorless.
Con: Lingering chalkiness.
Quick take: It gets a lot of hate, but I couldn’t really pinpoint a specific taste (other than a slight milkiness when it hit the back of the palate). It was a solid inexpensive option, though certainly not a top pick if I have many to choose from.
13. Deer Park
Pro: Very light and clean.
Con: Tap water-esque.
Quick take: “Elevated tap water” is what I wrote down, and I stand by this statement. It was quite palatable, but there was a lingering fluoride moment that was better suited for a dentist’s office.
12. Ice Mountain
Pro: Tastes like absolutely nothing.
Con: Boring and not as refreshing when served at room temperature.
Quick take: Ice, ice, baby, is exactly what this Ice Mountain water needed. Since there was practically zero flavor profile, a super cold sip would have enhanced the experience. Otherwise, it simply wasn’t memorable.
Pro: Doesn’t have the stale taste that notoriously comes from a bottle.
Con: Too heavy without mineral qualities to offset it.
Quick take: This definitely conjured some Florida childhood nostalgia since it was always the *it* bottled water brand at Publix, but I felt as if it was Fiji’s less attractive cousin. It boasted the same signature heaviness, but without the nuances of being harvested from somewhere exotic. I didn’t hate it, though, so this was one I’d keep in the fridge in case of emergency.
10. Poland Spring
Pro: Very smooth.
Con: Subtle plastic afternotes.
Quick take: This should probably rank lower, but it’s one of the most readily available bottled options in NYC and, as a result, has developed a cult-like following. Also, hi, I’m apparently part of this cult because I simply don’t mind the flavor. We had jugs of this at my last office job and it helped me survive hour-long meetings with incompetent bosses, so I’m pretty biased.
Pro: Tastes purified, like it came from a Brita pitcher.
Con: Bitter, somewhat metallic ending.
Quick take: Is this water good? Yes. Is this water the best? No. Am I going to buy it because the bottle art is pretty? Absolutely. And that pretty much sums up the thought process of anyone who drinks this.
Pro: Unique, distinct flavor unlike anything on the market.
Con: Can be hard to drink in excess with its minerality and brine that leads to sourness.
Quick take: Evian may be most associated as “luxury drinking water,” but this was not the one I wanted to pound at the gym, during a hangover or after loading my body with a shocking number of chicken fingers and french fries. I only take my Evian when enjoying the finer things in life, like laying by the pool, watching a tennis match or cleansing my mouth during a wine tasting.
Pro: Flavor-neutral and easy to drink.
Con: It felt like it wanted to be a sports drink with its slight heaviness.
Quick take: Core Hydration was one of the most balanced of the bunch, offering a very refreshing few gulps that went down quite easily. And while there was a subtle heaviness towards the end, it made it seem like it was — dare I say — healthier than the norm? This was likely due to its added minerals and electrolytes, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not delving into the science.
Pro: Felt hydrating with zero aftertaste.
Con: Lingers in the mouth a bit.
Quick take: I admittedly hadn’t incorporated Essentia into my bottled water purchases in quite some time, but this was a pleasant reminder that it exists and is delicious. My only gripe was that it had an almost lubricating effect in the mouth that made me even more thirsty after a few swigs. But if it encourages any typically dehydrated American to drink more water, then it’s done its job!
Pro: Healthy and clean.
Con: You’re paying for the drinking vessel.
Quick take: The bottle is Voss’s biggest selling point (even though it looks like a pipe bomb), but it’s the purity and freshness that keeps people coming back for more. Like Essentia, there was virtually zero aftertaste, which is precisely what I look for in a mass-produced water. I can’t, however, justify buying bottles of this in excess without feeling like an absolute D-bag. It’d be like giving two middle fingers to Mother Nature and saying, “Sorry ‘bout it, sis.”
Pro: Very smooth, somewhat complex.
Con: Heavy, almost like condensation from produce.
Quick take: I wouldn’t chug Fiji after a marathon, but I’d enjoy it with a special outdoor dinner. This was the one bottle I wanted to hear a water sommelier discuss in detail because its muted fruity, almost herbaceous notes felt multi-layered and it likely has to do with Fiji’s unique production method. I guess I’ll just have to fly to Fiji and learn about this myself.
Pro: Palatable and well-rounded.
Con: Subtle tanginess.
Quick take: There is a reason why this is my go-to everyday bottle and not just because Jennifer Aniston is its spokesperson. It’s pure, it’s reliable, and it tastes nothing like plastic, which is a triple win. Sure, there is a slight tang at the end that may be off-putting for some, but it’s no more noticeable than that tiny bit of salad that’s still stuck in your teeth from today’s lunch.
Pro: Rich, refreshing.
Con: More difficult to find.
Quick take: Iceland’s water export is one of the best in the biz, but it’s best when served really, really cold. Like, glacier-levels of cold, for lack of a better reference. And only if you can find it. While it’s readily available on sites like Amazon, I rarely see this product on most grocery store shelves. Womp, womp.
1. Acqua Panna
Pro: Refined and smooth
Quick take: “Oh, you fancy, huh?” — me to this elevated bottle that tasted as if it was just sourced straight from an Italian mountain yesterday and begged to be served with caviar or foie gras. And I guess I’m a guy who likes nice things. This is one of those rare instances where money really can buy happiness, so if you’re an H₂O snob and only want the best, drop that coin and hydrate expensively.