Through a Glass Sparkly
It’s Christmas and as everyone is all agog with the merrymaking and wolfing down loads of food, my thoughts turn to water. The presence of new sparkling water variants and brands in the market tells me there is a growing market for this other than me, but it sometimes feels like I’m the only one asking for it and it isn’t available in casual restaurants. Hotels and fine dining establishments are the only places where I can consistently find sparkling water, and it’s not like you eat at those places most of the time. What’s the holdup? I have been told that plain sparkling water tastes like soda that lost its soul or some other variation thereof, like a 7-Up or Sprite that’s “bitin”. I agree, but I like it?! As someone who has acid reflux, I really can’t drink full-on soda without suffering a dry throat at some point. Zero-sugar ones are fine and there isn’t even enough variety on those. Where is diet Mountain Dew, I tell ya? I prefer a Coke Light and a Pepsi Max to a Coke Zero, but you’d be hard-pressed to find even those two.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be able to drink sodas just fine, and I suspect it may have something to do with the big beverage conglomerates switching to high-fructose corn syrup from actual sugar. So it isn’t just in my imagination that sodas tasted better in the past; it was actually better in the past. I remember watching a segment on Unwrapped, a Food Network TV show, that featured independent soda companies in the United States that still use sugar, and both consumers and manufacturers insisting on glass bottles. The Coke of my youth—the era of Coke 500 and Coke Litro in glass bottles (gumuguhit sa lalamunan Coke)—is something I can’t seem to find again, even in the Coke solo glass bottle. This could be due to a combination of factors. There is a scientific explanation as to why carbonated beverages taste better in glass bottles. One is it’s because it’s harder for carbon dioxide gas to escape from glass bottles. A study by the Science By Design organization founded by Sarah Risch, which was published by multiple news outlets in 2016, cited that glass is the most inert packaging in that it transfers the least residual “taste” to the liquid. By contrast, the polymers in plastic and the polymer coating in aluminum cans can alter the taste of the liquid.
I like sparkling water on its own and not just because it’s a substitute for softdrinks, and why drink plain water when there is a sparkly, effervescent equivalent available? I find that similar to the soda glass bottle, my favorite sparkling water brands are those in glass bottles like Badoit and Summit Sparkling because the carbonation is buoyant, but there are factors other than carbonation because they all taste different, and it’s all a matter of preference. Badoit, a French brand bottled at Saint Galmier in the Loire Valley (a region famous for wine, it has to be said) that traces its origins to 1778, is hands-down my favorite brand. And while there’s a certain romance about it being natural sparkling spring water at its source, I just really love how it tastes and the level of bubbly is suave and lovely. I don’t care if water is tap and the bubbles are artificial as opposed to harvested from a gurgling stream, it’s really just how much you enjoy the quaff. Evian acquired Badoit in 1971, which is now owned by the French Food conglomerate Danone group, which also owns Volvic.
Other premium European brands like Perrier, Pellegrino, Gerolsteiner, and Santa Vittoria are the ones I see locally but only in hotels and fine dining restaurants, but I have always wanted local ones because imported ones are expensive. Schweppes is perhaps the first sparkling water we had all tasted because it used to be the only one available and is still the most common among the imported brands. Like how hard is it to carbonate water? In Europe both still and sparkling water practically cost the same, which means you’ll find sparkling water cheap but still water expensive at approximately €1.
Wilkins plain and flavored sparkling water are the most dominant and most prominent among local brands, and while not my favorite, if it’s the only thing on the menu, I’ll still get it. San Miguel recently came out with Agua Prima, packaged only in aluminum cans, and more expensive than other local sparkling water brands at P50-P60 retail (the others, Wilkins and Summit, are around P30). It is branded as a lemon-flavored sparkling drink, and is my current favorite among the flavored local brands, although you could say this straddles the plain and flavored sparkling water line in the sense it’s a hint of flavor. I was also surprised to see many cans in multiple flavors of La Croix at the newly renovated All Day Supermarket in Starmall, Alabang. La Croix heralded a flavored sparkling water craze in the United States some two or three years ago. What was once merely a local brand in La Crosse, Wisconsin came to national and international prominence. For reasons not entirely clear to anyone (maybe because they called their grapefruit-flavored drink by its French name “Pamplemousse” or due to their zany almost retro watercolor tie-dye packaging are just some of the theories) La Croix just went viral. There have been many brands of flavored sparkling water, but La Croix remains in the pop culture zetigeist. I’m not surprised they now have a big-time international supplier, hence their presence at All Day. Two years ago I was surprised to see some dented cans of La Croix at HMR of all places and I excitedly bought all five of them. I thought it was okay, not mind-blowing. I still recall the strawberry-flavored Badoit I clutched around in Paris and the very robust lemon-flavored Kirin Sparkling Water you get in Japan any time of night because of the ubiquity of their vending machines, both of these are superior to La Croix.
The most recent evolution of the sparkling water craze is hard seltzer, essentially alcoholic sparkling water also brought about by millennial fueled IG images of a brand called White Claw. Who knows how sparkling water will evolve next? I only know that my dreams are very modest and that I’ll be happy enough if any affordable, local sparkling water brand is offered among sodas at all dining establishments big and small.