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India's first & only water sommelier calls 'purest water' a myth, decodes how to pair it right with scotch

Ganesh Iyer reveals how to distinguish between the various types of water, and India's evolving consumer base.

, ET Online|
Oct 16, 2019, 03.24 PM IST
Ganesh Iyer is currently the director of operations for the Indian subcontinent at Veen.
“The tragic comedy is that water is not as simple as it's presumed to be.”

India’s first and only water sommelier - yes, that’s an actual thing - can identify the different types of water, in addition to telling you why they taste a particular way. Certified by the Doemens Academy, Ganesh Iyer has been in the water trade for over two decades, and launched six brands including Evian, Ferrarelle, Perrier in India, before he joined Veen - where he’s now the director of operations for the Indian subcontinent.

Till the early 2000s, when there were over 1800 water brands in India, everyone put a mineral water label on their bottles. It was only after a campaign with the Ministry of Health & Consumer Affairs, that lasted for almost three to six months, was an agreement reached to have classifications for water in the country.

“Now, broadly there is packaged or bottled drinking water, and natural mineral water,” explains Iyer.

The former (regardless of whether it comes in plastic or glass) is simply water taken from borewells at any location, that has undergone the reverse osmosis process, and has artificial minerals.

Meanwhile, natural mineral water always has a single natural source (a spring, an artesian well, reservoir or glacier), and while it’s impossible to sport the difference usually, there is a quick tip.

“The one thing to look out for is rawness. Natural water will taste very, very raw, while packaged water is sweeter.”

Veen, that sells natural mineral water, found its source in Bhutan - the only carbon-negative country, when it decided to enter the Indian market.

The Finnish brand sells water in glass bottles as a step towards going green.

It’s a pitch that is tuned to the present-day scenario where most brands are trying to go the plastic-free way. Whether it is PM Modi lauding a Bollywood cast for not using plastic bottles on set, or actress Sonam Kapoor asking for mineral glass-bottled water in Mumbai - only to discover there are only 2 such brands available in the Maximum City (Veen being one), the cry has got only louder.

For the Indian market, Finnish brand Veen found its water source in Bhutan.
For the Indian market, Finnish brand Veen found its water source in Bhutan.

Market Measures
Iyer understands the water game, in a way very few do. And which is why he is confident while debunking the ‘purest water’ statement that many claim to make.

“How can you say this is the purest water? What is the benchmark?

“There is no global standard to measure it by, but it's simply the might of the company making the claim.”

He goes on to explain, “Nestle manages almost 80% of the water brands in the world, and if they were to say that they are the purest and pump in 3 million on a campaign, it will just be marketing that people will believe."

While ‘purest water’ is out of the way, there is one hack that Iyer swears by: drinking boiled water.

“Nothing beats boiled water. Plus, drinking lukewarm water is the best way not to fall sick, so that’s an added bonus,” he says from experience.

​Iyers says the well-travelled Indian consumer is “ready for change, and is willing to experiment with water, too.”​
Iyers says the well-travelled Indian consumer is “ready for change, and is willing to experiment with water, too.”

Though the age-old, grandma-recommended boiled water has this sommelier’s stamp of approval, he himself remains lukewarm when it comes to alkaline water crowding the retail market.

“The natural alkaline levels in the body cannot be altered or refilled by drinking more alkaline water. It’s not a magic potion, just a style statement. Even if one was to drink it regularly, you would need 8-10 years for it to show any effect,” he explains.

Thanks to an upgrade in lifestyle habits, the Indian consumer, Iyer says, is “ready for change, and is willing to experiment with water, too.”

But he’s quick to clarify that Veen is not catering to the audience that drinks Bisleri. Recognised globally as a Michelin water, the brand doesn't have a retail policy, and is only available at hotels and restaurants.

Even while selling at Rs 400 a bottle, the brand doesn’t want to associate with the luxury tag.“We wanted to create a product that is premium, however, we don’t call ourselves luxury. If we did, we’d just sell two bottles,” he dismisses with a laugh.

Adding that “Veen is no longer a status symbol, but just natural mineral water from Bhutan in food-grade glass bottles.”

Learning Curve
Despite an expansive knowledge of not just water but also the market, Iyer’s thirst was not quenched. And which is why he started tracking the 17-day water sommelier course at Doemens Academy in Graefelfing a few years back.

In 2018, having done his research, he joined water enthusiasts in Germany for the course, that cost approx. Rs 3.5 - Rs 4.5 lakh.

Ask Iyer, who returned as the country’s only water sommelier, about the motivation that took him across continents, and he says it was the need for ‘a certified validation’, in addition to being intrigued by the technical aspect of water.

“The course taught me that water has an age, it can go bad, and every water is different in terms of taste and minerality. I also learnt about the various tastes that water can have - sweet, bitter, salt, umami, fat, metallic,” Iyer explains, with his voice giving away a sense of fascination.

But that’s not all.

He’s also mastered the art of water pairing. “Just like wine, water too should be rightly paired with food, and liquor.

“If you’re eating sea-food, pair it with low-carbonated water. And when it comes to single malt, always pick water that has low TDS (total dissolved solids). Don’t pair it with heavy mineral water, else the true flavour of the single malt will be lost,” Iyer recommends.

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