Eat local. Drink local. Yes, that means sparkling water, too.
Hollis Callaway launched Montane Spring Water so you could drink sparkling water sourced not far from home. It’s water from a spring about midway between Columbus and LaGrange.
“The water comes from Blue Spring, a source of 500 gallons a minute of some of the purest water in North America. It’s pure because the bedrock is quartzite. Most springs flow from sedimentary rock like limestone or dolomite, and the water from those springs contains a lot of dissolved minerals,” Callaway said. The amount of minerals dissolved in water makes a difference in the way the water tastes, and even the way it feels in your mouth.
Blue Spring has been in the Callaway family since 1934. It’s part of a protected habitat of 1,000 acres the family put into a conservation easement. “The spring is surrounded by Montane longleaf pine and is part of the remaining 3 percent of this kind of pine habitat in the state of Georgia. The spring has always been special to my family. My great-grandparents built a pool fed by the spring and we consider it a family sanctuary,” Callaway said.
The habitat is near the small town of Hamilton, just south of Pine Mountain, which is home to Callaway Resort and Gardens, founded by those same great-grandparents, Cason and Virginia Hand Callaway. The spring and the pond are surrounded by tall pines and a landscape that is well-kept, but still feels very natural. A wooden pavilion shelters those who want to swim or picnic, and the family maintains homes on the property, as well.
Water coming from the spring is crystal clear and emerges at a constant 64 degrees. The spring gets its name from the way the water looks, bright clear blue, at the point where the spring is more than 30 feet deep. There’s a tin cup hanging from a tree near the water, so you can drink from the spring at the source.
In 2002, Callaway’s grandfather began bottling water from the spring and selling it as Callaway Blue Spring Water, but it was Hollis Callaway who had the idea to turn the spring water into sparkling water. At first, some in his family were skeptical. “Not everybody was a sparkling water fan, in the beginning. All of them have been converted,” he said with a laugh.
Callaway’s water doesn’t just sparkle. It SPARKLES. “We’re big on bubbles, and our water is on the higher end of the carbonation spectrum. In product development, and the decisions you have to make, a lot comes down to your own gut. What do you think is the best? We think that beginning with exceptional spring water, (then adding) carbonation, gives it a crisp and refreshing taste. If you did put that amount of carbonation in other spring water, the result would not be as crisp and refreshing.”
Sparkling water is getting a lot of attention right now. Callways said it’s one of the biggest categories in the grocery store. “And, people appreciate local products and knowing where their water comes from. None of our competitors list where their water comes from. We brag about it, and we have geology and water quality reports on our website that anyone can check out.”
Montane Sparkling Water launched with an original (unflavored) variety, along with Meyer lemon honeysuckle and cucumber lime. The three flavors showcase the water’s Georgia roots and carry a bit of nostalgia with them, as well. You can hear the fond memories as Callaway talks about going out to the fence in the backyard and sucking on honeysuckle blossoms. This April, a new flavor joined the lineup – Grapefruit Peach.
One of the first to support Montane was Anne Quatrano of Star Provisions. “I just walked in cold and brought samples,” Callaway said. “I was very nervous, probably shaking. I had been sitting in my delivery van pumping myself up. But she liked it, and the team liked it, and she began carrying the water.” It’s still available at Star Provisions and Little Star.
At first, Callaway did all the deliveries himself. Now, he has a distributor, Savannah Distributing, and has more than 175 accounts in Georgia alone. “They’ve been a great fit. Their focus is primarily on craft beer, and they’re small and nimble enough, and responsible enough, but also big enough to be a perfect fit for me. They love working with young brands and helping them grow.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting wider distribution. Callaway said he’s learned he has to grow brand recognition outside the grocery store in order to be successful inside the grocery store. Telling his story is one way he accomplishes that. Another is to do a lot of sampling and events.
“When we hand people a can and tell them a little about it, we find they enjoy it. And, the grocers and grocery store management see that we’re dedicated, not just throwing something on the shelf and walking away. They’re the ones who decide if we get reordered, and what kind of shelf placement we get. If the grocery store manager is enthusiastic, we’ll be successful.”