For any Texan, depending where you are on the cocktail spectrum, the drink known as ranch water is likely either old news or else very old news.
And yet ranch water — composed of Topo Chico sparkling water, tequila, and lime juice — is riding high on the cultural radar right now, even for those who don't drink mixed drinks.
During these coronavirus times, it's emerged as a hot theme for to-go kits offered by restaurants and bars such as Libertine Bar on Greenville Avenue. And ranch water recipes and explainers are turning up all over the world wide web.
Ranch water has actually been around for decades, though the precise date and place of its birth has not been pinned down. Austin chef Kevin Williamson says his restaurant-bar Ranch 616 coined the "ranch water" name, while bars in West Texas claim they had it first.
Part of its appeal, aside from the thirst-quenching properties of a sparkling water served cold, is its unfussiness. The drink is a cinch to make, no measuring required. Dallas bar professional Chris Unruh shows how easy in a tutorial he taped for the 2020 Tastemaker Awards, which you can watch here. (Scroll ahead to the 5-minute mark. No, wait — go ahead and watch our entire video, it's fabulous.)
Unruh, who won CultureMap's 2019 Tastemaker Award for Best Bartender, has witnessed the ascent of ranch water in bars across Dallas-Fort Worth. Here, he helps us assemble this list of 5 key dates that track ranch water's journey to world domination:
January 22, 2015: Topo Chico becomes hip.
It may not be this particular Elijah Wood tweet on January 22 that defined when Topo Chico went from "something you'd buy at Fiesta" to "something you'd find at Central Market." But it was definitely right around that time period, so let's give him credit. At that time, LaCroix had already established sparkling water as a cool trendy drink, but was starting to lose its fizz. Enter Topo Chico as the next big thing.
August 2016: The New York Times discovers Topo Chico.
Topo Chico got elevated from Texas secret to nationally famous thanks to the New York Times, who wrote a big story describing it as "Mexican sparkling water necessary for summer survival in Texas." Topo Chico being a key ingredient in ranch water, the stage was now set.
October 2017: Topo Chico is bought by Coke.
Coca-Cola acquired Topo Chico for $220 million, giving the soft drink giant the edge it craved in the booming sparkling-water industry. This acquisition set off such a furor that it provoked a backlash in Austin, where one bar said it would no longer serve Topo. But being part of Coca-Cola not only increased Topo Chico's sales and distribution, it expanded its profile as a familiar brand.
July 2019: White Claw summer.
Who could forget the summer of 2019, when the only thing anyone talked about was White Claw. With its distinctive packaging, fruity flavors, and eminent drinkability, this alcohol-infused hard seltzer became the It Drink — so popular, it caused a shortage. Beyond launching an entire hard seltzer industry with many copycats, it created an audience of drinkers who liked the idea of fizzy seltzer lightly spiked with booze.
Summer 2020: Ranch Water gets canned.
And now it's sold in a can. Just the ticket if the idea of opening a bottle of Topo and topping it with tequila seems too labor-intensive, but it also represents another major threshold that ranch water has crossed. There are currently three big brand names in canned ranch water, all from Texas: Shotgun, Lone River, and Ranch Rider. But you can be sure there's more spiked seltzers on the way — including one from Topo Chico themselves.