Chances are good that in all likelihood, you heard the term “ranch water” for the first time in 2021. Unless you’re a Texas resident, you’re unlikely to be familiar with the local favorite mixed drink—it can’t really be called a proper “cocktail”—that consists of little more than blanco tequila, lime juice and carbonated water. For decades, ranch water was simply a drink of convenience for thirsty Texans, but the last few years have seen a sudden push to take the drink national and make it into the next big summer RTD (ready to drink) cocktail craze. Some of the small companies in this space have done this in a genuine way, by packaging legitimate mixed drinks made with tequila, lime and soda water. But you shouldn’t be at all surprised that the biggest companies in the field have instead decided to bastardize the core concept of ranch water in the same way they disassembled the concept of Long Drink, in the quest to turn an enjoyable mixed drink into an insipid hard seltzer.
This is a crowded field, full of companies with major alcohol backers jostling to see who can land the category leading “ranch water” on store shelves. There’s current category leader Lone River Ranch Water, owned by Diageo, and Dos Equis Ranch Water, owned by Heineken. AB InBev of course has some skin in the game, using one of their acquired Texas-based breweries, Karbach, to produce their own ranch water seltzer. And now, a new potential category leader has launched today, in the form of the Molson Coors-produced and Coca-Cola owned Topo Chico Ranch Water Hard Seltzer.
This brand is like all the others, in the sense that it’s not made with tequila (indeed, no hard seltzer is made with distilled spirits ) but instead alcohol created by fermentation, typically from malt. As we wrote on this topic previously:
Even despite the hard seltzer boom, this is something that many consumers still don’t understand, or care to understand. And of course, this means that these brands can’t genuinely reproduce the actual flavor profile of ranch water, because “alcohol from sugar,” as Lone River puts it, is just neutrally flavored booze that doesn’t taste like tequila. “Agave nectar,” which they play up as a sweetener, doesn’t taste like tequila either. This leaves the entire burden of the “tequila” part of a canned ranch water seltzer—the part that is supposed to be the core of the flavor profile—on the “natural flavors.” Which is to say, fake tequila flavoring. And at this point, you might as well be drinking Sazerac’s fake gas station liquors.
Molson’s new Topo Chico brand, though, has an immediate advantage in the fact that the Topo Chico brand of sparkling waters has long been associated with ranch water, and every mommy blogger who has written about the drink in the last five years has gone out of their way to mention that the drink is “supposed to be made with Topo Chico,” thanks to its higher carbonation level. One can only assume that this will probably lead to much greater awareness of Topo Chico Ranch Water Hard Seltzer, and favorable search engine optimization.
And that of course is ultimately a shame, given the ease of sowing confusion in the consumer’s mind, especially with the language one can use in describing this particular mixed drink. The fact that these hard seltzers can list that they’re made with “100% agave” is particularly misleading, agave of course being the sole ingredient in tequila. Here, the agave is being used as a sweetener in the form of agave syrup, but you won’t see any of these brands listing “agave syrup” on the front of their can. They’re all too happy for the average consumer to see “agave” and assume that means there’s some tequila in the can.
With all that said, let’s go ahead and actually taste this Topo Chico Ranch Water Hard Seltzer.
On the nose, this actually does smell vaguely like tequila—there are hints of salinity or seawater, along with herbal notes and something like artificial grapefruit candy. It more or less smells like very weak, not particularly good industrial tequila. On the palate, the taste is as thin as you would expect for the hard seltzer category, where drinkability is by far the most paramount concern. I get wisps of herbal and vegetal notes here, along with lime, slight pink peppercorn and a wave of moderate, generic sweetness that feels independent of any other flavor in the can, like a CGI character added in post production. It finishes dry, as one would expect, and is extremely easy to drink. Carbonation is solid, but not as lively as it is in regular Topo Chico. There’s no hint of alcohol whatsoever—just what is intended in a drink designed to be consumed 8 or 9 at a time, until you pass out on the beach and wake up with a second degree sunburn.
In the end, it’s clear that this stuff was designed to be inoffensive above all, by people blind to the fact that its inoffensiveness is itself offensive in its own way. It’s far less flavorful or interesting than an actual ranch water made with tequila would be, but hey, it’s easy to drink!
Do yourself a favor—if you want to try ranch water, buy some tequila, lime juice and carbonated water. If you really, really want to bring ranch water with you somewhere, buy one of the canned versions that actually contains tequila. Don’t just subject yourself to a drink clearly designed with the lowest common denominator of drinker in mind, or all we’ll ever be able to expect is more of the same.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.