On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the factors behind Ranch Water’s rampant growth. What exactly is Ranch Water, and who are the major players in the market? The three also explore why many canned products use malt liquor rather than tequila.

For this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try different flavors from Lone River, one of the first Ranch Water brands to enter the market. Tune in to learn more.

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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: And this is the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” Today, we’re talking all things Ranch Water, but specifically canned Ranch Water.

J: OK.

A: When did you become aware of Ranch Water? And why don’t you define what Ranch Water is?

J: Oh, I became aware of Ranch Water when I started working at VinePair, Jan. 4, 2021. Ranch Water is traditionally Topo Chico with a shot of tequila in it in the glass bottle. And you squeeze a lime. Any salt?

A: I mean, people got fancy with it, but it used to be that you drank a little Topo Chico out of the bottle, you put a shot of tequila in it, and you add a lime — you had Ranch Water. But now, it’s gotten really fancy.

J: Right.

A: A lot of entrepreneurs are trying to go back to the original. What I think is interesting is it’s something that seems to have blown up, yet, I still think a lot of people in the rest of the country have never heard of it. It’s a very Texas drink.

J: Right.

A: I’ve seen it kind of expand to Mexico now, because that’s actually where Topo Chico is from. It’s also where tequila is from. So you see some people drinking it in Mexico, but it’s still very much a Texas drink. Zach, do you see that also in Seattle?

Z: I mean, we see these various branded versions of it. Even Topo Chico, just the the mineral water, was not regularly in Seattle until the last five years. It started popping up. People were, whether they were Texas transplants or whatever, people started talking about Topo Chico.

J: It’s the best of.

A: I know.

Z: It’s fine. I have a hard time getting excited about paying multiple dollars for a bottle of water; it’s kind of just not a big starter for me. But that’s just me.

A: People think they make it so special from Monterrey, now Coca-Cola.

Z: That’s part of it.

A: Yeah, it’s so funny. It’s like one of these brands that sold and everyone’s like, “We don’t care. It’s Topo Chico. We love it.” Which is so interesting.

Z: Do you think that a lot of those people actually are aware that it’s sold, though? There’s a lot of that that people are kind of like, “Oh, really? Oh, I didn’t know that.” And then they immediately memorize it and keep buying it.

A: Up here too, I rarely ever saw it. I still think it’s very rare. If I asked most of my friends in New York if they like Ranch Water, they would now say, “You mean the stuff in cans?”

J: Right? You don’t see this on a menu. This is like an at-home drink.

A: I think it’s really interesting that there’s been such a large amount of brands that have launched to create Ranch Water when there wasn’t a massive amount of people around the country already drinking the “original Ranch Water.” I don’t know if that’s because people see an opportunity — and we can get into this in a second — that they can kind of make Ranch Water then be whatever they want it to be. It’s people who haven’t had true Ranch Water. Or if it’s just people hoping that if it’s big in Texas, it’ll be big in the rest of the country.

J: People are coming to Ranch Water like it’s a canned beverage, like hard seltzer.

A: What’s happening here, which I think is so fascinating, is that more than half of the Ranch Water brands don’t actually include tequila in them.

J: Right.

A: They’re malt-based beverages. They’re made the same way White Claw is made. Some of them do, and we’ll talk about some of those brands. But the majority of them don’t, including Topo Chico. Topo Chico has licensed their name to Molson Coors to allow them to make a Ranch Water, and that Ranch Water is malt. There’s no tequila in it. I think it’s really interesting. It was like, no one really cares, as long as it tastes the way Ranch Water tastes, we can get away with it without having tequila in it.

Z: And also in the case of the Topo Chico one, I also don’t think it uses Topo Chico. They’re not sending the water to Molson Coors either, I’m pretty sure.

A: No, it doesn’t.

Z: It’s really unclear what the deal is there.

J: Well, I think this is so interesting because it says agave on a lot of these. That’s what people care about as we’ve seen from the Cacti thing.

A: Yeah.

J: It’s been really smart for all of these brands to launch canned Ranch Water for that reason. You’re kind of trying to capitalize on the success of tequila, but you don’t have tequila in it. But you say agave because that’s how it’s sweetened, maybe.

Z: Yes.

J: So I think it’s very clever.

Z: This is what I think is interesting. Will there be a backlash to that cleverness? Are people going to be like, “Wait a second.” People’s obsession with agave as a distillate is different. I mean, people also like it as a sweetening agent. I’d be curious to hear what you think when we taste it.

J: It depends on how it tastes.

A: I think people think it’s healthier. There’s been this whole idea that it’s good for people who have diabetes, etc. To them, that’s all gone through the ringer of health, health, health. And now it’s better for you because you can put agave on it. We’re looking at one right now that says 100 percent agave right on the can. We’re looking at an FMB, and we’ll talk about the one we’re going to taste in a second. But it says 100 percent agave. The tequila world has taught you over the last 20 years to look for 100 percent Blue agave. This doesn’t say blue. It just says 100 percent. But it also says agave. So I think the majority of consumers think this has tequila in it.

J: But here’s the thing. Even if you maybe know that there’s no tequila in this beverage, when you compare it or put it next to a White Claw, are you picking this because it has agave versus a White Claw, which is who knows what?

A: Potentially. We’ll taste the original first, but they’re trying to give us some West Texas flavor that, obviously, you don’t get with White Claw. White Claw is going for the same thing that a lot of the other traditional seltzers are in terms of very bold fruit flavors — like Truly or even the High Noon that is the spirit base, etc. This is trying to give more of those Margarita or tequila-esque flavors when you normally would mix tequila. There’s a spicy one, right? A lot of people are doing spicy Ranch Waters, like spicy Margaritas. So I think there is something to why this would appeal to somebody. But it is very interesting to me that this is a take on a cocktail that people love that doesn’t have the core ingredient in the majority of the ones that are on the market right now.

Z: And all the big branded wines are made from malt. To come back to something we talked about on last week’s episode about when we were talking about High Noon, part of the reason for that is probably tax and licensing issues in using tequila in RTDs. But it does sometimes limit your placement. It can be more expensive on shelves for people. Maybe a lot of these brands have calculated, and they may or may not be proven right, that in the end, tequila might be a disposable element of the Ranch Water, which is pretty f*cking ludicrous. What do you think about that? The selling point of the drink in the first place is that it’s basically just tequila and water. But yet here we are.

J: I think we should try it.

A: We have in front of us, the one that started all this. It’s Lone River Ranch Water. So Lone River was started in West Texas and sold pretty quickly, actually, to Diageo. It is a flavored malt beverage, if we’re being honest. It is a malt. There is no tequila in it. But it seems like because of its success, it grew pretty fast, everyone else kind of decided to copy this. Which is interesting to me. I think it’s very interesting that everyone’s like, “Cool, let’s just do it this way.” Instead of someone being like, “OK, well, I’m actually going to be the real Ranch Water and come out as a competitor.” Topo Chico goes, “Fine, screw it. Let’s copy.” What’s also interesting is a lot of the Mexican beers are doing this.

Z: Yeah, like Modelo and stuff.

A: It’s wild.

J: Dos Equis, Modelo.

A: It’s so interesting. And they’re all doing this because I guess they can. But I’ve never had Lone River.

J: Lone River came out in April 2020, by the way. This category has just exploded.

A: In two years, basically through Covid.

Z: I didn’t answer the question at the top when I first heard about it, but I was going to say it was right around the beginning of the pandemic.

A: I think we might have talked about it on the podcast.

Z: I think I’d heard of it, but it was definitely not on my radar as drinks trend to be aware of until Lone River got moving.

A: So you have the original with you, right?

Z: I have only the original, keeping it original.

A: We got the variety pack, but I’m going to let Joanna open the original first and let’s see how it is.

Z: Well, it has a pretty distinctive hard seltzer smell.

A: It really does.

J: Oh, yeah.

A: Smells like hard seltzer.

J: I’m missing the tequila notes here.

A: This is what’s killing me. I never called it Ranch Water, but about five years ago, there was a good blanco tequila at an open wedding bar. Tequila and soda and lime became my go-to drink.

J: It’s a very smart wedding drink.

A: You can drink it all night. You don’t get messed up. It became my go to wedding drink — if there’s a good blanco on the bar. If there’s not, not doing it. Also, on a side note. What is gold?

Z: Caramel?

A: It’s not añejo.

J: It’s caramel.

A: It’s a blanco called colored gold, crazy. So anyways, if it’s a good blanco, then I’ll do it. I never referred to it as Ranch Water. I miss what I like in those. I don’t smell any tequila.

Z: Yeah, there’s no agave character here. The agave they’re using to sweeten is indistinguishable, in my opinion. There’s a little bit of a lime note, but basically this is —

J: Lime hard seltzer, kind of.

Z: But it’s not even that. I guess there’s a little bit there, but this is not all that different from the joke that was put around about a flavorless hard seltzer that’s just soda water and booze. This is very marginally removed from that.

A: OK. The note I get from this is basically Pine-Sol. It reminds me of the aromas from that.

Z: Did you drink a lot of Pine-Sol as a kid?

A: No, but it’s really artificial.

Z: I do.

A: I feel like I’ve just come out of an airport bathroom.

J: It’s lingering.

A: Still, people like it.

J: I mean, there’s very little flavor. It’s not overly flavorful. It’s not punchy by any means. It’s pretty watery, I guess.

Z: It’s 4 percent alcohol. It’s a 12-ounce can. You’re not going to get much booze in there, wherever you’re getting it from. You’re not going to get much lime in there, you’re just going to get a lot of water. Just a ridiculous aside: Where I bought the Ranch Water, there was one solitary, sad 4-pack four of Cacti Pineapple left. I’m sure it’s been on the shelf for at least six months, if not longer. Oh, man, like you are never going to get sold. Eventually, the owners are going to have to destroy you.

A: It’s terrible. So, Zach, we went ahead and opened the next one. So we’re trying the grapefruit. It’s called Rio Red Grapefruit.

J: It smells the same.

A: It smells the exact same. Seriously, it’s weird. It smells the exact same. They’re trolling everybody. This is the same f*cking thing.

Z: That’s amazing.

J: It tastes the same, too, kind of.

A: It tastes exactly the same. We just got trolled. It just has a little bit of a pink hue. It’s the f*cking same. OK, so thanks for joining us on that one, Ranch Water.

J: Lone River.

A: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Lone River. Now we’re gonna try Prickly Pear because we can.

J: I don’t really know what prickly pear tastes like.

A: Prickly pear.

Z: I think it’s going to taste a lot like Ranch Water and also Rio Red or whatever.

J: No, it’s different.

A: Oh, is it different? Ooh. That smells like a Yankee candle.

J: Oh, yes, it does.

A: A real Yankee candle. All right, let’s try it. I don’t like that at all.

J: It tastes the same.

A: It’s like he licked a Yankee candle with Ranch Water. Again, I think the Ranch Water is a great cocktail.

Z: Is it?

A: For the purposes. Yes, I think it’s great on a hot day, if you are someone that likes tequila. It’s a very sessionable drink.

Z: Yeah, it has a utility, but I don’t think I’d call it a great cocktail. Well, anything that’s basically spirit water is going to be fine. It’s going to taste good if you use good-quality water and a good-quality spirit. I don’t know. There’s been a lot of myth-making about this drink, in my opinion, that I felt is a little ridiculous. Cool, you put water in tequila in water with some lime. People have presumably been doing that for literally hundreds of years.

A: Zach doesn’t like this drink. Maybe that’s just because, like a lot of us, Zach’s very angry at Texas right now for all of its f*cking problems.

Z: But that’s actually not why. I have beef with Texas, I guess. But it’s not the only state that I have beef with.

A: Yeah, that’s true. I guess I have nothing to say.

J: I think it’s kind of unfair. We should have made proper Ranch Water first and then tried these, I think.

A: Oh, I do not like spicy.

Z: If we had done that, Joanna, this would even be even worse. I don’t have a better thing to compare it to.

A: Do you know why I think people like spicy? People in our office, this was their favorite. It keeps lingering in the back of your throat with the spice; I felt something.

J: Well, if you like spicy things, then this is vaguely spicy.

A: I don’t.

Z: I’m actually curious about the spicy one. In what way is it spicy?

A: It has a weird burn in the back of your throat.

Z: Does it feel like they added capsaicin?

J: Yes, like jalepeño flavors.

A: I think they added capsaicin, because it just has the burn at the end. It’s just that back-of-the-throat-type burn.

J: It doesn’t add flavor.

A: No, there’s no flavor. So the only thing we have is we have a bonus because it was sent to us. Lone River has come out with their Ranch Rita. Since we have it, we’re going to try it. This is their version of a flavored malt beverage Margarita. Now, I want to point out that it is double the calories.

J: OK. But no tequila, still?

A: No tequila, it’s still a flavored malt beverage. But it’s double the calories. This is obviously going after the Margarita drinker. But you also are not calorie counting now because this is 150 calories.

Z: Just the silence on the other line.

A: I don’t know, man.

J: More lime and more sweetness here.

A: More lime, more sweetness.

J: It tastes like Margarita mix.

A: It tastes like Margarita mix without tequila. All of these are missing tequila. I think maybe there’s a larger episode for us to do where we could do a large tasting of these flavored malt beverages that are acting as cocktails.

J: Right.

A: The base spirit is f*cking important. It’s why we talked about Gin & Tonics on Monday and how if you have bad gin, your Gin & Tonic will be terrible. If you have bad gin, your Martini can be terrible. A lot of the reason that people don’t love some cocktails is because they had it with a bad base spirit to begin with. These have none of the base spirits characteristics. As someone who likes Margaritas, as someone who likes an original Ranch Water, I would never drink this.

Z: The problem with them, too, is there’s that void. There is a missing elements to the whole construct that you just can’t kludge together with “natural flavors.” I think you can almost get away with it with certain kinds of base spirits, if you’re not trying to do something too fancy where there are more distinct flavors you could pull from a pyramid or something where you could get vanilla and caramel and stuff in there in various ways. Part of the appeal of tequila, and especially a blanco, is that the flavor is so unmistakably that of distilled agave. How are you going to fake that? I don’t think Lone River has even tried.

J: I feel like it’s criminal that they’re able to call it Ranch Water because this is just a vaguely lime hard seltzer.

A: Look, if you’re a listener and you drink this and you’re also a traditional Ranch Water drinker, I’d love to hear what you think.

J: They’re not comparable.

A: Right. I don’t see how anyone who drinks real Ranch Water drinks these. And I don’t see how anyone who likes these ever drinks real Ranch Water. I don’t think there’s any crossover. They might as well call this West Texas seltzer. Because what the cocktail Ranch Water is, albeit basic, is still very different from this.

J: I agree.

A: Well, it’s going to be everywhere anyway. I will say, we were unable to procure a tequila-based Ranch Water in a can. Maybe we’ll try to grab one and do a quick tasting at some point in a podcast in the future. But I would say as of right now, if you are a Ranch Water drinker and you’re a traditional Ranch Water drinker, I would try it. If you would like to try these in a can, look for ones that have tequila in them. If you’re not a traditional Ranch Water drinker and you just want to see what all the fuss is about, go out and buy a 6-pack of Lone River, see why there’s a huge craze for it. They’ve exploded in growth. I’m kind of confused with who. And that’s our show for today, folks. Joanna and Zach, I’ll see you Monday.

J: See you Monday.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.