Lately, it seems the web has been bubbling with praise for Topo Chico, an extra-sparkling mineral water from Mexico. It’s been touted as a favorite of Austin musicians, a San Pellegrino slayer, and the perfect espresso sidecar. It’s also the quiet darling of bartenders who want to pump up their sparkling cocktails (and, not unrelated, a supposed hangover helper).
Meanwhile, Texas is rolling its eyes. Texans have known for years that this seemingly simple bottle of bubbly water holds endless possibilities. Topo Chico is even the signature ingredient in an emerging cocktail that, until recently, was a regional secret.
The Topo Chico Legend
Part of Topo Chico’s mystique stems from its roots. Although its popularity is rapidly rising, this wasn’t a brand cooked up to fill a market void (like Grey Goose), or a weapon designed to destroy a competitor (like Surge). It’s just a great product from a quality company — and it comes with an ancient legend.
Way back in 1440, a stunning Aztec princess was afflicted with a strange disease and none of the king’s doctors could help her. Then, the king’s oldest priests spoke of a secret spring whose waters were known to restore health and vitality. After a pretty arduous trek to a mole-shaped hill, they found the spring and the princess was cured.
Flash forward to 1895, when the Topo Chico Bottling Company set up shop near the same molehill, bottling and selling the very same water. This family-run outfit continued to grow, eventually becoming the first Coca-Cola bottler in Mexico. It wasn’t until just around the start of the 1990s, however, that the company started to export its products to the U.S.
You’ve Probably Never Heard Of It, Guys
A few decades later, Topo Chico is still pretty low-key in its marketing, and that non-corporate mindset only seems to add to its charm. Much like PBR, which grew astronomically with nonchalant anti-marketing marketing, Topo just keeps on doing the same thing it’s always done, and doing it well. So why all the fuss? Call it retrophile fascination, call it hipster chic infatuation — but if you’re in Austin, just call it water.
Austin and Dallas have fully embraced the import as a local way of life, much as you might latch on to an amazing local craft brew. SXSW musicians are obsessed with it but it’s actually served everywhere, from cafés to taco trucks to cocktail bars. It far outsells Perrier and Pellegrino in markets and corner stores. Outside the Lone Star State, however, availability is still relatively patchy and the fervor has yet to fully catch on.
But that might be about to change. With all the buzz this summer, including a write-up in The New York Times, people are taking note. Add to that a slick rebrand and a savvy social media presence, and this indie mineral water seems poised to blow up from local sensation to major- label superstar.
The Many Tastes of Topo
Some say it’s the aggressive bubbles. Some say it’s the slightly salty, mineral profile. Whatever it is, there seems to be a general consensus: this stuff rocks. And while it’s amazing on its own, spiked with a squeeze of citrus, or paired with fresh coffee, it also makes a great addition to cocktails.
The Topo Chico website has a growing cocktail guide to get you started, and The Dallas Morning News talked to several bartenders about how they put it to good use. There are even some pretty devoted Pinterest boards filled with thousands of Topo-centric, Instagrammy concoctions. The real star of the show, however, might be a little something called Ranch Water.
This West Texas phenomenon is a simple mixture of tequila, lime juice, and Topo Chico. But is it that simple? As we’ve seen with any drink of mysterious origins (hey there, martini), you might get an entirely different version of the drink depending on who you order it from.
Order it at the Gage Hotel in Marthaon, Texas and you’ll enjoy a measure of Cointreau added to your Pura Vida Tequila. Over at Ranch616 in Austin, it’s Hornitos Reposado and Citronge. Even Martha Stewart has a Marfa Ranch Water recipe (named after the city, but still) that includes pepper flakes and sea salt. Every version, though, is non-negotiable on using fresh lime and a cold bottle of Topo Chico.
If tequila isn’t your thing? Topo can amp up a Campari Soda, Tom Collins, or pretty much anything that needs bubbles. For instance, I’ve been revising my home-made tonic syrup, continuing the never-ending quest to build the world’s finest G & T. I may have finally found the missing ingredient: the salt-tinted sparkle of Topo Chico.