Artisanal Water: Experiencing the World and Its Cultural Achievements, One Sip at a Time

Meet the Timmy Brothers, bespoke water makers.
Aug 6, 2015·
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Bubbling up from deep below the granite mountainside, running over rocks and cobbles in a creek that meanders through ponderosa pine, live oak, and incense cedar, the water is source from an environment as pristine as it is scenic. From the underground spring to the bottle, the water is minimally processed, giving you a pure, flinty expression of the San Bernardino Mountains.

In the mock world of artisanal water, those could stand as the tasting notes for Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water. Because as Bill Timmy says in a satirical video about artisanal water makers in Brooklyn, New York, “Creating bespoke water is storytelling.” One blend features water from the Mississippi, from Lake Pontchartrain, and a touch from the East River and is said to convey the narrative of jazz music in America. “It’s like opening up a Mark Twain story, except without the racist parts,” Timmy adds.

“I had just rolled my eyes one too many times watching something about the artisanal food movement, so I decided to make my version of This Is Spinal Tap, except instead of heavy metal, it was hipsters,” director Paul Riccio told NPR in an email.

The video effectively takes the food world to task for its obsession with provenance and all things historic, often with examples that are just a shade different from reality. The Timmy Brothers' water—$10 a liter—is delivered via burro pack in the video, while in real life, the chocolate company Mast Brothers has taken to shipping cacao beans from the Caribbean to Brooklyn via schooner.

But think about bottled water for a second. Not the kind that a water sommelier—yes, it’s a thing—might sell you at a high-end restaurant but just your run-of-the-mill bottle. When I was a kid, my friends and I wanted to drink Evian because we thought it was classy, and the whole mountain spring mineral water thing had us convinced that it would taste different. With the mountain-meadow aesthetic of most every spring or mineral water brand, we’re buying into provenance without knowing what the provenance is—25 percent Mississippi Delta, 74 percent Lake Pontchartrain, 1 percent East River—just because it sounds nice. But even a beautiful source can bely problems: Nestlé’s Arrowhead brand sparked controversy recently when news broke that the corporation’s permit to pump it out of the San Bernardino National Forest—which it continues to do in the midst of a drought that’s four years long and counting—expired decades ago.

Then there are the Dasanis of the world, repackaged tap water sold at both an environmental and a financial markup: According to the Pacific Institute, it takes three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.

So while there may be some truth to the comedy of artisanal water, when Timmy says, “We’re putting the peninsula in your mouth without any carbon footprint”—as if Arrowhead were bringing you some essence of the San Bernardino Mountains at no environmental cost—that is far from being the case.