Every time Garth Welsh begins choosing products for a new W Hotel, he’s hunting for a metaphoric unicorn.
For the past 12 months, the food and beverage director for the sparkling new W Hotel Melbourne has searched for products that are distinctively local with a memorable taste and a great backstory that are also premium enough to satisfy the boutique hotel’s guests.
“We always talk at W about finding what’s ‘new-next’. That usually refers to DJs and artists, but I … want to find that up-and-coming supplier,” he says.
Even Welsh was surprised when he chanced across tiny Mornington Peninsula business Three Bays Water. “It’s unlike any water I’ve ever had, it’s mind-blowingly good,” he says of the Victorian water.
Since being founded in 2015 as Aqui-Live (the name was changed in 2020 for copyright reasons), Three Bays Water has been the toast of the fine water world. It has a cult following in mineral water-obsessed Europe after twice being recognised by the Fine Water Society as the most unique water in the world. In the US, its high minerality, or TDS (total dissolved solids), was celebrated in a popular Netflix documentary that sent orders into overdrive.
A number of distribution deals around the world include a major contract signed this month to supply several high-end restaurants in Dubai, and supermarkets across the United Arab Emirates.
In Australia, though, Three Bays remains fairly unknown, stocked by a limited number of restaurants, cafes and gourmet providores. But the tide is turning as the plaudits keep coming for the burgeoning boutique brand.
Three Bays has a humble origin story that begins in the backyard of a Red Hill family hobby farm high on the Mornington Peninsula. The property may enjoy sweeping views of Port Phillip Bay, but the gently bubbling pond in a corner of the yard is so innocuous that its unique attributes went undetected by previous owners.
That changed in 2012 when a friend of current owners, Olaf Lyche and Dayle Purcell, slaked his thirst at the pond and commented on the water’s high minerality and unusual taste. The couple sent samples for testing and what came back stunned them: evidence the water arises from the Palaeolithic Basement, taking a minimum of 2000 years to force its way through the area’s mineral-rich red soil to reach the surface.
Olaf and Dayle began to bottle a fraction of the water that flows to the surface each day. A sample eventually found its way into the hands of Martin Riese, a qualified water sommelier at the exclusive Petit Ermitage restaurant in Los Angeles and also a judge in the annual Fine Water Society awards. He recommends Three Bays to his customers and describes it as “the olive oil of water” with a “sweet and creamy” taste.
Riese claims he has never failed to pick Three Bays in a blind judging. “[It] has a very unique texture, it’s slightly thick on your palate. When you close your eyes and drink the water, texture-wise it could be whole milk. I am fascinated about that and that is the reason I can remember the water in blind tastings right away,” he says.
Olaf says extensive testing has shown Three Bays contains 23 out of the 24 minerals required for good health, and that no other known commercial mineral water in the world can match it for purity.
Three Bays was also in the coveted “swag” bag presented to celebrity attendees of the American Australian Association’s G’Day USA gala in Los Angeles at the end of February.
And Hollywood stars Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick gave their seal of approval when they tested the water for Efron’s Netflix doco Down to Earth (which is not yet available in Australia). “It annoys me that this is so good, because I don’t know how to describe it,” Kendrick says at a tasting of mineral waters picked for their high TDS value. “It tastes so strong.”
“Water has a flavour, for sure,” Efron replies. “It’s a watery flavour.”
So Three Bays Water proved to be the unicorn Walsh from W Hotel was looking for – even more so because it wasn’t everywhere. “I love that it’s local, I love the story, I love the taste,” says Welsh. “I think Three Bays is the best. So it’s absolutely perfect.”
The artesian mineral water is now stocked in every mini-bar in the five-star W Hotel Melbourne’s 294 guest rooms, and it’s the “house” water in the hotel’s restaurants, bars and cafes.
Three Bays founders Olaf and Dayle have since quit their corporate jobs to concentrate on bottling the outflow of their artesian spring. Once the spring has achieved full utilisation of its 20,000-litre-a-day capacity for a year, Dayle and Olaf have pledged to redirect the profits into establishing a safe house for victims of family violence.
As word about Three Bays Water’s remarkable story and attributes continues to spread, it's unlikely to be long before they get that opportunity.