I was sitting in a local brewery recently, when a mother and her daughter, about 10 years old, stopped in. Daughter played with my dog, Atticus, while her mom sat down next to me and ordered a beer.
They told me they had driven down from northern Michigan and were on their way to take the girl to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The mother had seen there was a brewery along the way, just off the interstate, so they stopped to take a break.
The girl asked for a cup of water. Clutching the cup in both hands, she took a sip and said, “That’s some good water.”
I chuckled because, well, it’s just water. Water is water. Right? But she took another drink and savored it like a fine wine. Then, the girl’s mother took a drink.
She said, “It doesn’t taste like anything.”
They both were astonished.
Mom and daughter traded drinks, so happy to be experiencing a cup of water in Louisville that was poured from an outdoor spigot in the brewery parking lot. And then I remembered — oh yeah, we have really good water in Louisville. Apparently, much better than in northern Michigan (no, they weren’t from Flint, but that thought sank in as I watched them drink).
If you think about it, when you go on vacation to just about anywhere, the water tastes a little, well, weird — different than what we have here. I had long attributed that to my taste buds just not being used to other water, a mental trick. But that’s not really it.
In 2008 and 2013, Louisville Water was chosen as the best-tasting tap water in America by the American Water Works Association, and the two treatment plants here both rank in the top 16 in North America for exceeding water quality standards, according to MarySusan Abell of the Louisville Water Co. Now that is what I call high-quality H2O.
Once upon a time, Louisville was not the place to drink water. Wells became contaminated by sewage systems constructed too close to them, making the potability of groundwater suspect at best and a game of Russian roulette at worst. Cholera and typhoid fever were killing many in the early 1800s, which earned Louisville the nickname, “The Graveyard of the West.”
That pumping station on River Road, known today usually as the Louisville Water Tower, was the result, pumping muddy, but not deadly, river water into the city. It put Louisville on the forefront of water purification technology. By the 1870s, technology and the Crescent Hill Reservoir had the city on the path to clean, drinkable water. Today, we’re the beneficiaries of all that engineering and work.
Abell said it’s common for people to talk up Louisville water on social media, and it picks up when young people head off to college in late summer, after they arrive at some distant campus and find not all tap water is the same.
“We love when people take their water for granted,” she said. “It means we’re doing our job, providing a great tasting and refreshing product.”
I rarely buy bottled water because, hey, I don’t need to — I live in Louisville. I keep a pair of 32-ounce, plastic bottles in my fridge filled with cold tap water. Sometimes, I pour it straight from the tap and drink it at room temperature, and it’s perfect either way.
Of course, what I mean by “perfect” is that it doesn’t have the metallic taste some water does, a sign of how far we’ve come in terms of purity. Louisville water truly doesn’t have any sort of distracting flavor, at least in comparison to a lot of water I’ve had over the years. And, I am told, it’s really good for making bourbon and beer, too.
Louisville’s water even has its own copyrighted name in “Louisville pure tap,” and this year that name turns 21 — which means that Louisville water is old enough to drink.
But the next time I quaff some Louisville pure tap, I’ll be thinking about that mom and daughter from Michigan who had some of the best water they’ve ever (never?) tasted while passing through Louisville recently. Cheers to having water that doesn’t taste like anything. We shouldn’t take it for granted.