If there’s one thing every Brummie can agree on, it’s that Birmingham tap water is bostin’. Next level. S-tier. Elite. Elixir of the gods. Ambrosia. You probably bottle straight from the pipes and sell it to Londoners like it’s Fiji or Voss.
Back in 2008, leading food and drink experts did a blind taste test to find. Britain’s best tap water. Taking water from 10 regions, the panel – which included Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens – gave each glass of water a mark out of five for clarity, smell and taste. As if you need us to tell you, the West Midlands was voted the best.
Specifically, the winner was Severn Trent Water, which not only covers Birmingham, but Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Nottingham, Leicester and parts of mid-Wales. Judges noted it for its “clean taste”, being “very fresh” and “beautifully pure, a mountain stream of freshness.” All things we completely agree with!
So what sets Birmingham tap water apart?
Birmingham is in what you would call a ‘soft water area’. Water is naturally soft, but when rainwater lands in areas of porous rock, it passes through minerals such as calcium and magnesium and becomes ‘hard’. It’s often believed that soft water has a more natural, neutral and clean taste as it lacks these minerals.
Often areas in the South of England and London have incredibly hard water, which is sometimes described as “bitter” or “salty”. If the rainwater falls on non-porous rock, however, it can’t penetrate the ground and stays soft. Areas like Scotland, Ireland and Wales are famed for their soft water – which we probably ascribe to that ‘mountain-fresh taste’.
So where does our water come from?
Well, the water isn’t exactly local to Birmingham if that’s what you’re thinking. It travels 72 miles from the Elan Valley in Wales via a Victorian aqueduct (yes, seriously). This is the main reason why the tap water in Birmingham and the surrounding areas is exceptionally soft – while the rest of the West Midlands uses local ‘hard water’ supplies.
During the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham was plagued with diseases like typhoid, cholera and dysentery due to a lack of clean water. And it was Joseph Chamberlain, the leader of Birmingham City Council, who campaigned for clean water from the Elan Valley in mid-Wales. So next time you pour one out, be thankful for Old Joe!
Every year, for a couple of weeks, Severn Trent carries out on this 100-year-old aqueduct. So if you ever notice a slightly off-taste from your next glass of water, this might be why. The water supply company also created a rather strange children’s book about Birmingham tap water, which you can read here.