Martin Riese has been fascinated by water since his youth and now launches a water menu in Los Angeles.
The water menu at Ray's and Stark Bar is not Riese's first. In Germany "in 2005, a customer came up to us and said she didn't like the house water," he explains. "I [thought back to] my childhood, and I thought, 'Why not come up with a water menu?'"
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Riese's list quickly grew from 14 waters to 40 and he saw great interest from guests in pairing water to wine and food.
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According to Riese, it is very hard to find interesting waters in the United States. While his restaurant in Germany served 40, Ray's and Stark Bar only serves 20.
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Riese was approached by the Trade Association for German Mineral Water to help craft a certification program for water sommeliers. "When you are crazy passionate about one thing, you can become an expert," he assures.
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All bottled water is not created equally, according to Riese. "For me, bad water comes in plastic bottles, because it is all about the taste," he says. "When you have a plastic bottle (although not all are the same), it is giving the taste of plastic to the water." Instead, Riese prefers glass bottled waters.
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The region the water comes from often affects its mineral content (its TDS) and thus, its taste. All bottled water was once rain and what type of ground it falls on has an effect. "When it [falls on] volcanic ground, it has way more minerals than what comes from sand areas," he explains.
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"A lot of people think bottled water is all the same," says of Americans. "When you see ['purified water'] on a bottle, that means it is tap water. In my opinion, that is the most expensive water you can buy because what you are actually getting is artificial water."
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The most expensive water on Riese's menu is Berg, which comes from a glacier in Canada. It is a small production, which also comes in a nice glass bottle, jacking up the price to $20. "It is very pure water with almost no mineral content in it."
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Think Riese's menu list is pricey? Acqua di Cristallo “Tributo a Modigliani” is the world's most expensive bottle of water and sold at an auction for $60,000! The bottle is artist-designed and made from 24-karat gold while the water inside was collected from springs all over the world.
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Riese advises staying away from tap water due to the added chlorine and fluoride, but what else is in our tap water?
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According to Wired, Sulfate occurs naturally in water but at high levels can give off an unpleasant sulfurous smell and taste similar to that of rotten-eggs.
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Radium, thorium, and radon are formed in aquifers and according to Wired, radiation levels in water in Houston have far exceeded the EPA's limits.
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"When you ask an Italian woman about pasta dough, she will say it is so important what water you are using. Every producer of beer will say the most important thing in preproduction is the water they are using," explains Martin Riese, water sommelier for the Patina Restaurant Group. "This whole idea of using different waters has always been in our culture. We are bringing it back."
Riese is newly launching a water menu at the Patina Group's Ray's and Stark Bar, at which he is general manager. Hand-picked by Riese, the water list features 20 bottles sourced from as far as Denmark, France and Fiji that range in price from $8 to $20 per bottle.
The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is seemingly the very first to have a water menu in the United States, but internationally, you can find water bars like Le Water Bar Colette in Paris, which offers more than 60 bottles of water. The water bar concept may not be new but has yet to gain wider acceptance. Consumers are wary of spending money on expensive gourmet bottled water when tap water is available and free.
However, Riese hopes to change their minds. Not only does he have concerns about tap water in the United States due to the levels of chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride added, but since childhood, he has realized the nuances of different waters. "When I was a child and we went on vacation with my parents, I always wanted to try the water," he recalls. "When I started my career in the restaurant business, I was trained in different waters and I realized, maybe I have a special talent for it."
The differences in waters come from different levels of minerals in them, measured as total dissolved solids (TDS). The higher the TDS, the stronger the taste. While Voss has a TDS of 40, Fiji has 280 and Vichy Catalan has 3,000! "When people say it all tastes the same, I'm more than happy to give them a bottle of Fiji and a bottle of Vichy Catalan and they will right away say, 'I'm so sorry that I ever said that it all is the same,'" he explains.
Riese's passion and extensive knowledge of water, as well as certification as a water sommelier from Doemens in Germany (a certification program he helped create), informed his choices for his list, which took him a year and a half to curate. During this time, he also created his own water, Beverly Hills 90H2O, which was crafted to pair well with foods, wines and spirits. He hopes to share the story of his and every other bottle on the list with guests so everyone can understand the nuances of water.
Check out the slideshow above to learn the origins of Riese's most expensive water.