Take this deepest dive into sparkling water with Francine Cunningham

Blog, featured image. Text reads, Waterfalls That Punch You in the Throat, by Francine Cunningham

Waterfalls That Punch You in the Throat: The Elusive Beverage

Sparkling water. Some love it. Others hate it. And some, like me, are obsessed.

I don’t drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, and I am not a huge fan of sodas and juices—I’ve gotta really be craving it to coat my mouth in that much sugar. I don’t drink glasses of milk, cow or otherwise, and only like my tea herbal, fruity, and ice-cold. I enjoy still water, plain or infused with fruit/plants. But nothing gives me that hit of dopamine like sparkling water—well, certain sparkling waters. An inferior variety denies me that sweet, sweet brain chemical reaction and fizzes out the whole experience.

As a non-alcoholic drinker, I used to feel a certain pressure at parties or bars. Some folks found it perplexing that I didn’t drink, and it was awkward for me to order glass after glass of free tap water. That all changed when I discovered sparkling water. I was still giving business to the bar, tipping servers, and I had something in my hand that looked enough like a drink that people stopped commenting. But I quickly developed a refined palette. There were some bottles that made me think, “Ugh, that’s all you have? I’ll just take some club soda from the nozzle thing.” And there were sparkling waters that provoked genuine excitement.

It got me thinking: How many sparkling waters are out there?

The answer, it seems, is a lot—like, a lot a lot. There are so many varieties too: sparkling water–infused tea, yogurt drinks, spritzers, caffeine beverages. There has been an explosion in the market, a flood, a deluge of sparkly water. You’ve gotta read the labels now, because it’s not always just water and carbonation anymore. And, like everything else in our society, if someone can make money from something, they will.

There are so many kinds of sparkling water that I’ve had to divide them into categories. I know my favourites and am always looking add others. So, please, if you have a favourite that I haven’t tried, tell me. I’m not a researcher, and I don’t know much about collecting data, but these are my categories:

  1. Store brands
  2. Homemade
  3. Regular brands that you can find in convenience stores
  4. Brands you can find at slightly pricey grocery stores
  5. Brands that you can only find in specialty stores or online
  6. Infusions/mixes/unholy creations

They all have pros and cons, ranging from price, ease of procurement, to my scale below. Do you want to mix it with other liquids? Some mix better than others. Do you want to show up to a fancy party and bring something that looks like liquor and gives you something to talk about? Are you mega-dehydrated after an eight-hour flight, covered in the breath of the hundred people on the plane with you, sporting a skull-pounding headache? Beleaguered and haggard, do you just want something cold to fill your mouth with, something to wake you up and give you enough energy to shower and order room service before falling into bed? A good sparkling water can help you with all these things.

So, what makes a good sparkling water?

Fran’s Eight Point Ranking system:

  1. Bubble concentration: How fizzy is it? Does it punch you in the throat and burn like nothing else? If so, then it’s high on my list.
  2. Bubble size: Yes, bubble size does vary between brands. For me, the tiny ones are best, they stay around longer and crush your taste buds into submission.  
  3. Taste: Plain or with flavours added, there are benefits to both. If I am eating with my sparkling water, I prefer a plain one. If I’m enjoying it on its own, then a flavoured one is nice.
  4. Ease of acquisition: Do I need to pay to ship a crate to my house? Can I drop by the grocery store? Is it a speciality store an hour away in the closest city? These things matter.
  5. Cost: What is this going to extract from my precious horde in the bank? I am like a dragon and need my horde to be ever increasing, so if this bottle is going to make too large of a dent and it’s scoring low on everything else in this list? No, thanks.
  6. Size: How much am I getting? Is it too much to drink in one sitting before it goes flat? That’s a lot of pressure!
  7. Fizz length: When is this baby going disgustingly flat?
  8. Can you drink it warm?: Can you, in an emergency, stomach drinking it warm? Because this happens.

So, I have taken it upon myself to give you a ranking of some of the waters I have tried, to help you on your own personal hydration journey.

In no real order:

1. SodaStream (and other similar) machines

I file this under the homemade category. While I appreciate the relative ease of making sparkling water at home and the environmentally friendly aspect of it, I just don’t like it. I’ve lived with one in the house and no matter how many times I push that button, it can’t reach the carbonation level I’m looking for. I also find the syrups and stuff not to my liking. And the taste! Even just the plain water tastes gross with this stuff. It coats your mouth with it.

Bubble Concentration: Not enough | 0
Bubble Size: Big and sloppy | 0  
Taste: Coating of the mouth, gah! | 0
Ease of Acquisition: Pretty Easy | 1   
Cost: Over time, less expensive | 1 
Size: Bottles are big | 1   
Fizz Length: Pops so fast | 0 
Can you drink it warm?:  Never! | 0      

Total out of eight: 3

2. Fonte Margherita (Italy)

I have never been to Italy, but from what I have heard through the sparkling water gossip mill, they make good stuff, and they love it a lot over there. Is this true? I hope so. Because so far, the Italian bottles I have encountered have been really good! But since they are imported, they are usually pricier than ones made over in this part of the planet. And I have to travel over an hour to get to an Italian grocery store.

Bubble Concentration: Not as high as I would like, but still satisfying |  
Bubble Size: Small | 1     
Taste: Like, nothing | 1    
Ease of Acquisition:  I had to drive over an hour to an Italian grocery store | 0   
Cost:  It was three bucks for the bottle | 1    
Size: Big bottle | 1   
Fizz Length:  Hours | 1      
Can you drink it warm?:  This went room temp on my desk as I forgot about it, and stayed good! | 1    

Total out of eight: 7

3. Fiuggi (Italy)

This comes in a green bottle and has “Italian Luxury Water” in fancy writing on the label. I mean, who am I to deny myself Luxury Water? I will not. I love myself too much. I should have been sipping this while submerged in a hot bubble bath, with chocolate dipped strawberries served to me on a diamond platter. But, I had to work, so I drank it while still in my pajamas, working at my computer. Luxury? I don’t know. I do like wearing pajamas, though.

Bubble Concentration: Good! | 1  
Bubble Size: Small, but could be smaller | 1    
Taste:  Like nothing, which is good | 1    
Ease of Acquisition:  Hard |     
Cost:  This small bottle was seven dollars, holla! | 0     
Size:  Small for what you’re getting | 0  
Fizz Length: Long! | 1  
Can you drink it warm?: Another that I left to get warm while being distracted, and it held up | 1       

Total out of eight: 5

4. Sapsucker: Organic Sparkling Tree Water (Ontario)

I am going to leave Italy for a while and head to the lands I was born on. This is water that is tapped in Canada from a maple tree. I guess they carbonated maple tree water and then flavoured it with grapefruit? I guess this would be considered an infused sparkling water. I do like the packaging. It’s something you could bring to a party, and it looks kinda like an alcoholic drink, so the can would blend in with everyone else’s. This had a subtle flavour, which I didn’t mind, but it didn’t feel like a sparkling water in my mouth, it was softer. I haven’t had anything like it. It came in a four pack, which is good, because I’ll need to try it more than once to know if I like it. It’s one of those. Perplexing.

Bubble Concentration: Weak | 0    
Bubble Size: Large | 0   
Taste: Subtle and good | 1      
Ease of Acquisition:  I had to go to three different Superstores to find it. | 0      
Cost:  Like more than you’d want to pay for a four-pack | 0   
Size: Standard can | 1   
Fizz Length:  Weak. If it was in a bigger container, it would be worse. Drink fast. | 0   
Can you drink it warm?:  Nah | 0        

Total out of eight: 2

5. North Water: Canadian Rocky Mountain Spring Water (Calgary)

This is bottled in my hometown of Calgary, which is kinda cool. Bottled spring water. What spring? That’s always my question. Like, are you out there at a small spring up in the mountains with a bucket? Or is it from the regular city water supply and you just assume it came from a spring at one time or another. In which case, why not rain water? Or waterfall water—feel the power thunder through you! This was okay-ish. I personally wouldn’t buy it again, because who wants okay-ish?

Bubble Concentration: They could have amped this one up, a lot | 0     
Bubble Size: Medium and disappointing | 0      
Taste: Has that carbonation flavour going on | 0       
Ease of Acquisition: Only sold in select stores but maybe because they’re new-ish? | 0        
Cost: Pricy for a single can | 0      
Size:  Standard ml but in a slender can to make it look like there is more | 0 
Fizz Length: An hour later it was the same as when it was opened | 1       
Can you drink it warm?: Ha! | 0         

Total out of eight: 1

6. Spinnakers Sparkling Mineral Water: Watermelon Lime (Vancouver Island)

This smelled really good upon opening, which is a good sign. And they delivered on the flavour, wow! So good! This company also has a water thing going on. On the label it explains it is drawn from an aquifer 225 feet under Vancouver Island and has minerals which are called elements for LIFE! Just think about that. Aren’t we all just star dust? This can has got me in the ponderings. It claims that it is UV treated to not alter the properties of the water and to keep its bright taste. Well, I don’t know about any of that but it tastes good, so maybe that’s brightness? It still has a lingering carbonation flavour that doesn’t seem to be present in any of the Italian brands. Maybe it’s the glass bottle that the Italian ones come in, as opposed to all the aluminum cans and plastic over here. Maybe I’m a genius and just solved something that’s been solved for a long time on the internet, which I would know if I took a moment to look. We’ll never know.

Bubble Concentration: Okay. I could have had it notched up. | 1       
Bubble Size: Medium | 0       
Taste: The watermelon is very refreshing | 1     
Ease of Acquisition: Had to go to a specialty store | 0       
Cost: Kinda pricy | 0    
Size: 473ml can, so bigger than normal |1    
Fizz Length: You’ll want to drink this in an hour | 0       
Can you drink it warm?: The flavour needs to be cold | 0      

Total out of eight: 3

7. San Pellegrino (Italy)

This is probably one of the first sparkling waters I ever tried. It was a good introduction. It’s not one that I turn to frequently, as I find that it’s a bit weak for me, but I will take this over the main competition, Perrier, which I really don’t like and is always a last resort. The problem with this bottle is that it loses its fizz quite quickly. It’s not a bottle to be savoured, but drunk quickly, which is odd because they always seem to serve it at restaurants.

Bubble Concentration: Not the best | 0  
Bubble Size: Medium | 0     
Taste: This one has an aftertaste that I just don’t like | 0     
Ease of Acquisition: This one is everywhere | 1      
Cost: It’s fine | 1    
Size: You can find a variety of sizes, which is nice | 1 
Fizz Length: The worst! | 0      
Can you drink it warm?: NEVER! | 0        

Total out of eight: 3

8. Montellier: Lime (Quebec)

This Quebec brand has always been a good staple for me. I don’t get it very often as I prefer just getting a case of cans for my everyday drinking as it’s cheaper. But I wouldn’t ever turn up my nose at the blue bottle. I do wonder where they get their water from, though?

Bubble Concentration: Okay, not bad | 1     
Bubble Size: On the medium end of things | 0     
Taste: I really enjoyed this lime flavour || 1   
Ease of Acquisition: This seems to be everywhere | 1       
Cost: Not an everyday expense | 0  
Size: Bottle is a good size, and I think comes in cans | 1   
Fizz Length: Fizzes out way too soon—why? | 0       
Can you drink it warm?:  I could in a pinch, but it’s gotta be a real pinch | 1        

Total out of eight: 5

9. Perrier: Strawberry (France)

I am not going to lie, I wouldn’t do you like that. Perrier is my least favourite, or at least second-least favourite sparkling water. There is a store brand that I can never remember that is below it. But this is lowwwww on the list of what I will drink. If I am somewhere and they literally don’t have any other options and I am desperate, sure, I will ingest. But I won’t be happy, or as thoroughly satisfied. And knowing that will eat me alive, which is what all this carbonation is probably doing to my insides.

Bubble Concentration: I mean, blah | 0    
Bubble Size: So big! Which means they pop faster | 0     
Taste: Weird aftertaste | 0     
Ease of Acquisition: I can’t deny you can find this everywhere | 1      
Cost: Fine | 0     
Size: You can get all sizes, so variety is nice | 1     
Fizz Length: It’s like, “Hey, I am not fizzy anymore” two minutes after opening | 0      
Can you drink it warm?: Heck no! | 0        

Total out of eight: 2

10. AHA: Peach (Canada)

We’re halfway there! This is a Coca-Cola brand, if you didn’t know. And there is a Pepsi brand further down this list, so if you like the eternal competition between the two, you can go at it even in sparkling water. Wasn’t that weird in the early 2000s, when we had to choose which we liked better? What about those of us who liked neither? I always preferred an A&W root beer or a good cream soda, occasionally a ginger ale. As an aside, Canadian Dry Club Soda is the worst in terms of everything on my scale. Avoid!

Bubble Concentration: Meh | 0     
Bubble Size: Medium | 0     
Taste: The flavour is pretty good. I like the pomegranate one. | 1     
Ease of Acquisition: This brand is everywhere | 1      
Cost: It’s okay | 1     
Size: You can find a variety, but I recommend cans for better carbonation | 1   
Fizz Length: Doesn’t hold up over time | 0       
Can you drink it warm?:  No, thank you | 0       

Total out of eight: 4

11. Lurisia (Sparkling) Natural Spring Water (Italy)

I love a good story, which should be obvious. This brand comes with a little local lore on the bottle. Apparently, the spring from which this water sprung was discovered in the early 1900s by miners in the Italian Alps and is known for its healing properties. The water is supposed to be light and somehow healthy. I have to say it, these specialty Italian sparkling waters are just better than the ones here. They’re lighter, the bubbles are smaller, and there is no aftertaste.

Bubble Concentration: Awesome. I was refreshed | 1     
Bubble Size: Tiny, which I loved! | 1     
Taste: None | 1       
Ease of Acquisition:  Hard, for me | 0       
Cost: about $3 for the 1L glass bottle | 1   
Size: Big | 1   
Fizz Length: Very long. You can keep open on your desk for a few hours | 1      
Can you drink it warm?: For sure, you can | 1         

Total out of eight: 7

12. Mangiatorella: Italian Natural Mineral Water (Italy)

I was disappointed by this one, which is strange because so far I have really enjoyed the Italian brands. But it didn’t have the lustre of the others, or the purported healing properties. And it was flat!

Bubble Concentration: Not enough, no throat-punching here | 0    
Bubble Size: Small, but just not enough | 0      
Taste: No aftertaste | 1   
Ease of Acquisition: Not easy | 0      
Cost: Not an everyday beverage | 0    
Size: Big bottle | 1 
Fizz Length: Short | 0    
Can you drink it warm?: No | 0      

Total out of eight: 2

13. Ferrarelle (Italy)

If you could have seen my face when I drank this—that’s all I have to say. A big yuck from me.

Bubble Concentration: Almost flat upon opening | 0   
Bubble Size: Big | 0    
Taste: This was the biggest yuck factor. It had one and it was not pleasant | 0      
Ease of Acquisition: Hard | 0      
Cost: Pricy | 0    
Size:  Good | 1   
Fizz Length: None at all, since it started out pretty flat | 0      
Can you drink it warm?: No, please, god no | 0         

Total out of eight: 1

14. QINGTING Soda Water: Orange (China)

So, this is not for me. It had a really strong artificial sweetener, so much so that I could only do a few sips. And it coated my mouth in an awful way. If you like a strong flavour, this might be for you. The writing on the bottle is not in English so I don’t know how it was advertised, but it did have three and half oranges on it—it delivered on that front.   

Bubble Concentration: Very weak, more like water with a tiny fizz | 0     
Bubble Size: Really big | 0     
Taste: Strong artificial sweetener | 0      
Ease of Acquisition: Found at T&T, but it was in the city, an hour away | 0       
Cost: A lot for what you’re getting | 0    
Size: Small | 0  
Fizz Length: Not at all | 0      
Can you drink it warm?: Nope, the flavour would be way worse | 0        

Total out of eight: 0

15. Chi Forest Sparkling Water: White Peach (China)

I really enjoyed the light peachy flavour of this one. It wasn’t overpowering and didn’t taste like fake added sugar. It also had a nice bottle shape to carry. It was a chill sorta drink that I would for sure get again. This wasn’t like a sparkling water to me, though, more like a juice with some fizz.

Bubble Concentration: Medium | 0      
Bubble Size: Large | 0    
Taste: Really good | 1       
Ease of Acquisition: Again, hard for me, living in a small town | 0      
Cost: Okay, but it’s the same as a 12-pack of cans | 0    
Size: Could be bigger | 0     
Fizz Length: Not super long | 0       
Can you drink it warm?: You could because it’s basically not sparkling water | 1       

Total out of eight: 2

16. Pomelo: Lime (China)

This one was okay. It had a nice initial bite to it, but the lingering aftertaste was perfume-like and it stayed with me in an unpleasant way, like someone hovering over your desk when you’re trying to concentrate. For that reason, I would never drink again.

Bubble Concentration: Good at first | 1     
Bubble Size: Medium | 0     
Taste: Too perfume-like; lingered too long | 0     
Ease of Acquisition: Hard, for me | 0       
Cost: Too much, but I understand import fees | 0   
Size: Good | 1   
Fizz Length: Not strong enough | 0     
Can you drink it warm?: No way | 0       

Total out of eight: 2

17. Blue Menu: PC Brand (Ontario)

PC brand has such a good fizz level, others could learn from them. I like this store brand because it’s cheap, flavourless, and doesn’t have a bad aftertaste. I think this comes flavoured but I always go for the flavourless because it can be nice to mix with a little orange juice, or maybe some sliced fruit. This is my mixer of choice for sparkling waters.

Bubble Concentration: Great! | 1     
Bubble Size: Small, which we know is good times | 1     
Taste: Flavourless, yay! | 1    
Ease of Acquisition: You can only find at certain Loblaws stores | 0       
Cost: Cheap | 1    
Size: Cans | 1    
Fizz Length: Good length | 1      
Can you drink it warm?: Nah | 0        

Total out of eight: 6

18. bubly: Lime (bottled in Canada)

This is from Pepsi, so those who follow the duel can try it head-to-head with AHA. I find that the bubbles in this one don’t hit at the front of your tongue, but at the back. I don’t know how else to explain it. I find the flavour to be a bit on the stronger side for me, but it’s a good one and I personally like the new flavours they experimented with in the summer. I loved the apple and the pineapple flavours.

Bubble Concentration: Needs to be fizzier | 0     
Bubble Size: Medium | 0      
Taste: Kinda strong, but nice | 1     
Ease of Acquisition: Everywhere, which is a nice option at fast food places | 1     
Cost: Pretty affordable | 1    
Size: Typical cans, but also tall cans, so that’s a plus | 1    
Fizz Length: This one dies kinda fast, you’ve got an hour maybe | 0    
Can you drink it warm?: I have and it was okay | 1        

Total out of eight: 5

19. PC Root Beer Flavour Sparkling Water (Canada)

So, this one surprised me the first time I had it. In the best way! It was like soda, but not sugary or overpowering. I like the subtle flavouring and the fizz is awesome. If I were to drink three of these in an afternoon (yes, I have), my throat would be sore from the amount of fizz, but in a good way. It hits nice. And it’s a store brand and is cheaper than some others on this list for a 12 pack, which is always nice.

Bubble Concentration: Lots of fizz, a good throat fizz | 1  
Bubble Size: Small | 1     
Taste: They’re flavoured like soda—root beer, cream, etc. soda—light and not sugary! | 1     
Ease of Acquisition: No Frills is where I get mine and they’re, like, everywhere |1      
Cost: Cheap for a 12-pack | 1    
Size: Standard can; you know what you’re getting | 1
Fizz Length: Holds up okay-ish, but I always drink so fast | 0       
Can you drink it warm?: Nah. Because of the flavour, you want this cold | 0         

Total out of eight: 6

20. Dolomia (Italy)

I saved the best for last. This is my all time favourite sparkling water. Yep, you heard me. This is it! The bubbles are so small, the bottle is beautiful, the fizz lasts hours, no aftertaste. It’s just the best one for me—so far, of course. This drinking journey will last a lifetime.

Bubble Concentration: So many bubbles! | 1     
Bubble Size: Microscopic | 1   
Taste: Like nothing; like a dream | 1     
Ease of Acquisition:  Difficul. Have to order to my house, by the case | 0      
Cost: Pricey, with shipping | 0     
Size: Good | 1  
Fizz Length: Awesome and long | 1      
Can you drink it warm?: Yep, but come on, cold is best | 1        

Total out of eight: 6

In summary, I like a good Italian bottle, but in my everyday drinking life, for affordability and good carbonation, flavour etc., my picks are the PC Sparkling Water, bubly, or AHA. And if I want something plain, I’ll go with the Blue Menu store brand. 

So, there you have it! My list, my rankings, my life! Okay, not my life, but here are some personal opinions you probably didn’t need to know. Sparkling water is the beverage that just keeps on giving.

Stay sparkly!

Fran


Francine Cunningham is an award-winning Indigenous writer, artist, and educator. She currently spends her summer days writing on the prairies and her winter months teaching in the north. Her debut book of short stories, God Isn’t Here Today, (Invisible Publishing) is a book of Indigenous speculative fiction and horror.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *