Martin Riese is a water whisperer with an unparalleled palate or else he’s got high society hoodwinked. The U.S. government believes the former and has given the German native an O-1 visa. The O-1 is reserved for applicants "who possesses extraordinary ability” — an extension of brain-drain immigration — and Riese is renowned as “the world’s foremost certified water sommelier.”
When Riese drinks, he puckers and chews his H2O, tasting flavors far beyond tepid tap water or bubbly mineral water — a sommelier extraordinaire. As general manager and water sommelier at Ray’s & Stark Bar in Los Angeles, Riese actually offers a water menu packed with 40 different brands from across the globe. Forget “Sam’s Choice” water, such a low-brow liquid would never make the menu cut. The cheapest bottle starts at $8 and moves right on up to $20. Water for $20? It’s a 750-milliliter bottle of iceberg water from Canada. “This water is virtually untouched by man,” Riese tells Vice. “As massive icebergs break off of 15,000-year-old glaciers, they are harvested and melted under strict purity guidelines to preserve the water’s natural qualities. The last mammal to drink it did so about 10,000 years ago.”
According to the L.A. Times, Riese’s water menu includes “a photo of each water bottle, the history of the water, whether it’s sparkling or flat, the content of what’s in the water and a dot taste rating system meant to show people how bitter or sweet a certain water tastes.”
How did Riese gain his powers? It started early: “As a child, when my family went on vacation, the first thing we would do in a new city was try the tap water, because I always felt that every tap water has a different taste.” Sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium — bitter, sour, salty, sweet — Riese can distinguish them all. The L.A. Times says Riese gained certification as a water sommelier from the German Mineral Water Association through a week-long course — and the rest of his expertise is apparently self-learned.
Skeptics abound. For many, curated water menus with bottled icebergs at $20 a shot seem a bit like “Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome.” As Riese tells Vice, “When I started the program, you can’t believe the amount of hate emails I received from unreasonably pissed off people, to the point where they demanded that I go back to Germany.”
Maybe one man’s water is another man’s wine, but for most — the tap will save you $20.
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