by Kathleen Willcox
posted on February 15, 2019
In the year 2018, there’s water and then there’s water. Consuming untreated, unfiltered, so-called “raw water,” is becoming increasingly popular in certain communities like Silicon Valley, according to The New York Times. And, in NYC, the trend is even infiltrating cocktail culture, where one enterprising bar is using this controversial liquid as a star ingredient.
Advocates claim pure spring water (aka raw water) contains health-boosting minerals and beneficial bacteria that are stripped out during the filtration and treatment process that water undergoes before it hits your tap or bottle. Additionally, many devotees choose raw water because it isn’t treated with fluoride or chlorine, as many municipal water supplies are. On the flipside, critics point to the fact that while water treatment plants remove some minerals, these processes also remove pesticides, contaminants, and bacteria, and that drinking raw water can lead to serious illness, and even death.
Consuming raw, untreated water is a controversial practice with vocal proponents on both sides. (Photo Courtesy: rawpixel)
Despite the controversy, companies have popped up like algae blooms to feed the nascent thirst for raw water: Live Water bottles spring water from all over the world, Tourmaline Spring sources it from Maine, and Zero Mass Water takes the movement to another level, selling a solar-powered panel that allows clients to collect water from the atmosphere right outside their homes. And in upstate New York, the town of Saratoga Springs offers up water from its famed springs via 21 taps, each with its own distinct mineral content and flavor profile. (In this case at least, consumers can rest easy: Saratoga Springs employs a team of technicians to test and monitor the water supply.)
If all of this controversy is making you wish you had a strong drink in hand, you’re in luck: Dave Arnold, a legendary cocktail guru and co-owner of Manhattan’s Existing Conditions, is tapping Saratoga Springs’ waters for a unique flavor profile that he believes has helped him create one of the bar’s best-selling drinks, the Saratoga Paloma.
Existing Conditions, an aggressively-experimental cocktail bar in New York's Greenwich Village. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Medsker)
“I’ve been fascinated by mineral water for a long time,” Arnold says. “Several years ago, I learned that Saratoga Springs is one of the few places in the world to have natural sparkling water bubbling out of the ground that is actually cold.” (Most spring water, including that from the celebrated springs of Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Iceland, comes up hot.) “So I called up my friend Peter Meehan and he agreed there was a story there.” (Meehan was at the time editor of the much-lamented, innovative food magazine Lucky Peach.)
With this in mind, Arnold mounted an expedition with his brother-in-law and toured all but one of the 21 mineral springs. “I loved tasting all of them, and I was struck by how different the flavors were,” Arnold notes. “Some were intensely salty; others, sulfuric. [But] my favorite by far was Hathorn #3.” The Parks Department describes it as Saratoga’s “most saline- and mineral-rich spring.”
The Lucky Peach article on Saratoga’s water never materialized, but the salinic snap of Hathorn #3 haunted Arnold, as did the notion of adding a little dose of health to a booze bomb. So before Existing Conditions opened, he took his core staff members back up to Saratoga to taste and work through some cocktail recipes. The drink they landed on, the Saratoga Paloma, has been so successful that Arnold says a team-member just returned to Manhattan with seven kegs of Hathorn # 3 in tow.
The Paloma from Existing Conditions is made with naturally-salty water sourced from one of Saratoga Springs 21 mineral springs. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Medsker)
When asked if it felt excessive to head three hours upstate to Hathorn #3 every few months for refills, (I mean couldn’t he just add some salt to bottled water?), he was unapologetic: “You can’t recreate the subtle mixture of minerals in a lab,” Arnold says. “These are waters that have rested underground gathering minerals and salt for millions of years. Plus, we’re taxpayers, so I feel like we’d be fools to not take advantage of this amazing natural resource.”
Just to be clear: potential health benefits aside, Arnold is not trying to sell consumers on the notion that guzzling a Saratoga Paloma is the boozy equivalent of slamming cold-pressed kale juice. (If only it were: in addition to the ounce-and-a-half of mineral water, it’s made with a hefty helping of tequila, plus clarified grapefruit, and lime juice. It tastes piquant and salty, with a hint of fizz). In fact, he issues a note of caution on even the most rigorously-tested raw water: “If you plan on chugging a frosty mug of Hathorn #3, you better make sure you’re close to a bathroom,” he laughs. “It’s extremely salty, and you’re going to have some problems.” But an ounce or five (along with tequila and clarified juice) over the course of an evening? Cheers to that.
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