On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe discuss the recently debuted line of tequila seltzers from High Noon. The two debate why they chose that term instead of “Ranch Water,” why the tequila inside matters, and debate why so few other companies or brands have gotten behind tequila seltzers. Then, they try some of the seltzers for themselves. Tune in for more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
A: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Z: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: Easter Friday VinePair Podcast. Zach, I feel today’s topic is a good one because I’m feeling like we’re really close to outdoor drinking weather. Do you?
Z: Speak for yourself, man.
A: How many weeks of winter is it in Seattle, 51?
Z: No. This is actually very unseasonably cold, late April. It’s been in the mid-40s for the last week and a half. That’s very unusual. We had a few days or a week-
A: That sucks.
Z: -before that where it was more in the mid-50s into the 60s but it’s gotten cold again.
A: How long is that going to last, do you think?
Z: I’m not going to claim I’m loving it. It’s kind of rough.
A: How long is it going to last for?
Z: Who knows man? Hopefully not much longer. May is usually pretty solid so we’re not that far away. Again, appropriate for today’s topic in some way.
A: I know. I think what we want to talk about today is the continued ascent of spiked, hard alcohol-based seltzers so non-malt based with one specific one, as again, our example which is the High Noon but specifically tequila. I think, off the bat, what’s really interesting is High Noon has released tequila-based hard seltzers. For those who are aware or only slightly aware of High Noon, it is the No.1-selling spirit-based seltzer using “seltzer” in the United States. It has grown incredibly fast, it shows no signs of slowing down, but until now had only been made with vodka. Recently they released a tequila-based version of it. I’m going to say something pretty blasphemous, I think. I think the blasphemy is that High Noon can sell itself however it wants but this has proved to me that it’s actually an RTD that High Noon is a cocktail. It’s a low-alcohol cocktail. They figured out how to make it 4.5 percent so it’s sessionable, just like other seltzers. I think because they’re playing with spirits and flavors so much, I really think of this as probably the best-selling RTD in the country. A lot of the flavors they are playing with are flavors you think of when you think of sessionable tequila cocktails, really refreshing tequila cocktails. I’m going to say, I’m surprised it took High Noon this long to do tequila. It felt so obvious for so long. I’m wondering why it’s taken them so long to do this. The other thing I’m a little curious about when just looking at it because we’re going to taste them in a bit is I am curious how the tequila is going to come through in how low of alcohol these are. I think vodka doesn’t really need to do much for flavor, but tequila does have a flavor that most people like. I’m curious what’s going to happen because if you look at the cans, it says blanco tequila with real fruit juice, sparkling water, and natural flavors. I’m wondering if the water is going to dilute out some of the tequila flavors so we’ll see. I guess just from the top, Zach, what do you think? Do you think that again as well it seems like this should have happened much sooner than it did.
Z: Well, I think there’s a two-part answer to this in my eyes. There’s the answer that gives High Noon the benefit of the doubt which I’m a little bit inclined to do before we’ve tasted it, which is that perhaps getting the exact formulations dialed in so that maybe the tequila characteristic that we’re talking about is present in these, getting the fruit flavors right. We’ve tasted a fair number of seltzers on this podcast over the last couple of years and I think we could say fairly, there’s been a pretty wide swath of quality levels ranging from quite good to borderline undrinkable. Some of that is what each seltzer is setting out to do and we might not be the target audience for some of them. On the other hand, some of it is also just frankly, how well can you dial in a product that delivers what the packaging says it’s going to deliver. It may be that because as you pointed out, tequila is a slightly trickier thing to work with than vodka that the consumer might expect a little bit more or just expect something different from a tequila seltzer than they do from a vodka seltzer. There’s that. The other part of it is just the last charitable I guess is that they’re just late to the party, but no one has really beaten them there. Given the way that High Noon has really grabbed a hold of whatever the segment of the market you choose to put it in, whether it’s hard seltzers, whether it’s RTDs, whether it’s both, does lead me to believe that maybe this has been — even if it took a while, maybe it’s been in the works for a while, and that’s been known to other companies who are not interested in going toe-to-toe with the current industry leader in this specific niche.
A: Yes. My other thing is I know that this has been banded around for a while, but what’s also interesting to me is that this has really — most other companies who have done this previously have branded this as Ranch Water. I’m really interested to understand why High Noon didn’t, and if that is probably because it is what I assume, which is that what we’ve been saying all along is true, and that is that no one outside of Texas knows what the f*ck Ranch Water is nor do they care. As I’ve said for countless episodes where we talk about tequila, my go-to wedding drink is blanco tequila with soda water, and lime because it’s delicious, especially outdoor weddings in the summer and it’s sessionable, and I’ve always called it Tequila Soda. I’ve never called it Ranch Water. I think that this is, again, I think the Ranch Water train that everyone jumped on is again like the big alcohol and brand manager specifically jumping on these regional trends and thinking they’re going to become national without taking the time to understand why that drinks trend truly is only ever going to be a regional trend. For me, Ranch Water, the reason Ranch Water is so Texas is because everything about what that drink sounds like is Texas. Texans, I’m sorry man. If you are in New York, everyone, well, do you remember the movie “Urban Cowboy?”
Z: I never saw that.
A: Neither did I, but I remember, you know what I’m thinking? If you see someone walking through New York City wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, you probably assume they are either A) lost or B) like a musician. For the most part, you do not assume they’re just someone that lives and breathes in New York. That’s because we don’t — like, that cowboy culture doesn’t exist here, or they’re like a massive fan of Yellowstone, which — again, I guess because it is the most popular show in the country but it’s also like a, I’m not indy “Yellowstone,” but anyways tangent aside. I think that like, but Ranch Water really does have a cultural cache in Texas because the idea of the ranch and cowboy culture et cetera is very deeply Texas. It’s what we think of when we think of characters like Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights” and stuff like that. It’s a very Texas thing. In the same way that we’ve always argued, too, that while the Gin & Tonic is popular in the United States, the idea that it will ever become as big as it is in Europe is probably also pretty farfetched. Like you’ve never seen the wide adoption of the large balloon-shaped glasses and the crazy accouterments added to those balloon-shaped glasses to make a crazy Gin & Tonic. What you see in the U.S. is like a glass with a lime wedge and some tonic off the gun. That’s what you see when you see a Gin & Tonic. I think what High Noon potentially is doing here, which is really interesting to me, is probably like ignoring a lot of the cool kid noise and maybe just looking at the data. I’d be curious if anyone here who listens to the podcast works for High Noon if you want to answer that question because again this is much more to me resembling a kind of a cocktail I order over the summer. That Tequila Soda. Now I’m also surprised they just didn’t say Tequila Soda, but I’m wondering if they didn’t do that because, in a canned format, the name soda on a can would just make people think that maybe it’s sweet and has actual soda pop inside it. I think that is really interesting because you really do not see a lot of people yet calling it a tequila seltzer. Most people are, if they’re using tequila as the base of these seltzer drinks, they are calling it Ranch Water.
Z: Yes. Well, I think there’s that problem for Ranch Water, which I think to some extent goes beyond just its regional appeal and that the name obfuscates what’s in it if you’re not familiar in a way that when you’re dealing with these specific ingredients centering tequila given its runaway success and popularity seems like a bad idea. Would people drink Gin & Tonics if they were called the dandy tipple or something that really made them sound British? Maybe we can ask Tim what he thinks. Although he doesn’t like Gin & Tonics particularly, so maybe he’s the wrong person to ask. The point of it is, part of what makes the Gin & Tonic work as a cocktail, even if it’s not as big here as it is in other places, is 100 percent what you are getting when you order that. If you order a tequila soda, you know exactly what you’re going to get. Similarly, tequila seltzer with the flavor listed below gives you, at least, again, this is before we’ve tried it, we could TCS and be like, actually these days nothing like what’s on the packaging? What a mistake. I think if you said, we tried some of the flavored Ranch Waters and I think it’s just a weird confusing mishmash of things where unless you’re really familiar with what Ranch Water is, you don’t really know what to expect. To be candid, the moment I knew the canned Ranch Water craze was not going anywhere was when the officially licensed Topo Chico Ranch Water itself didn’t use tequila. We’re just like, we’ve really lost the thread here. We’ve confused what makes the drink popular, i.e., that it’s a tequila cocktail with what we think is popular, which is I don’t know the name Ranch Water or some sh*t. That was just an absolute unforced error. I don’t understand why that decision was made. The point I’m trying to make here is that I think they wisely understood that the ingredients in the drink are going to sell it. It’s the tequila part, the seltzer part, and the flavor part. It’s not a name that evokes a part of the country that isn’t where all of their consumers live.
A: Yes, exactly. I think it is also interesting they’re doing some pretty interesting flavors. I’m curious how all of them are going to stack up because we have all four of them here.
Z: Should we get into this?
A: Yes, I guess. You know what, let’s keep it cheerful and chippy and figure this thing out. Let’s see what’s going on. I think we should start with classical. I think we should end with the classic, which I would say is lime.
Z: Yes, I agree.
A: We have in front of us passion fruit, strawberry lime, and grapefruit. Dealer’s choice, Zach.
Z: I’m going to suggest that we go grapefruit, passion fruit, strawberry, lime.
A: Okay, cool.
Z: I think we’ll start with another classic, of course, a combo which is grapefruit and tequila, but a little less than the absolute standard of course tequila and lime. Let’s just get into it. I’m going to crack this open right now.
A: Okay, let’s try. Okay. Grapefruit.
Z: Smells very grapefruity. That’s always a plus.
A: Okay, so I’m going to say immediately off the bat, this tastes exactly like the High Noon grapefruit regular to me. I don’t have them side by side, but I think right now my immediate reaction is that my hypothesis for this one was right. Which is that I’m not getting a lot of tequila. I’m not getting any agave notes, which again, might not be what you’re looking for, but they literally — they have a NOM on the can, and for those of you who are not familiar with what a NOM is, anytime tequila is produced or used and packaged, there’s a NOM, which is a number that then you can refer to. If you would search like N-O-M, and then the number which — on this one is 1489 in Google, it will send you to a site that will tell you the exact distillery in Mexico where the tequila was produced and how that tequila was produced. Whether it was produced using traditional methods, whether it was produced using diffusers, whether tahona, oven roasting, mechanical mashing, all that stuff. They’ve put enough tequila in it that they’re using this NOM classification. I don’t get as much tequila as I think I would want. That being said, it’s still tasty.
Z: I think the thing to me is I feel like I get a little bit of the agave character on the finish of the-
A: Just the end. You’re right. I’m picking it up just at the end.
Z: I agree that it’s definitely not — then again, to be fair, as you said at the beginning, I don’t think I would’ve reasonably expected a can that’s whatever, this is what, 355 milliliters? I can’t even do that math off the top of my head, but whatever it is. Essentially a 12-ounce can that’s four and 4.5 percent alcohol, it’s not going to have that much tequila in the first place, and when you’re adding in grapefruit juice and some natural flavors and stuff, yes, probably you’re going to obscure a fair bit of whatever tequila character is there but I think again, it comes back to this question of is the tequila on the label. Is the appeal to High Noon of making tequila seltzers that they feel like there is a segment of the market that would buy this product that would not buy High Noon vodka seltzers? I think the answer has to be yes. They have to believe they can grow into a market that might be like, I don’t want to vodka seltzer, I’m either like a tequila fan or I prefer what drinking a tequila seltzer says about me, or whatever the motivation is or I think it’ll be more healthy or tastes better or whatever. I think being able to put tequila on the label means a lot obviously, I agree with you that at its core, this is not that distinguishable from the High Noon just vodka seltzer that’s grapefruit flavored. Although again, I don’t know that we should have expected it to be, it’s not like they’re using a truly either a larger portion of spirit or something that would be like, it’s not High Noon Aquavit Seltzer or whatever.
A: Yes. I looked up NOM 1489 to see what it is. It’s Destileria Leyros and they make it in Jalisco. It says that they are open to contracts, so they will do private labels here for people and so also made at this distillery Casa Dragones, one of the super-premium tequilas made here. Some weird ones too. Cat Tequila, Chrome Horse Society, Curamia, Don Fermin.
Z: It looks like Casazul which I’ve had before.
A: Not like the fancy one. Republic. Interesting. What I think is really interesting is not actually any of the tequilas that Gallo sells as their own tequilas like I don’t see Camarena and Komos, they’re now invested in. I don’t see that either so interesting so they’re getting blanco tequila from just this location and because they’re putting it into the so it says the distillery equipment, so they use a diffuser for extraction. Which makes sense, so for those who are unfamiliar diffuser is the more efficient way to extract. When you oven roast and then you either mechanically mash or tahona mash, it just takes a lot longer. You can extract the sugars a lot faster with the diffuser. It’s like hot warm steam and things like that to them to break out the sugars in the agave and they make two different kinds of tequila. They make 100 percent agave and mixto tequila. They only use column stills and then they use American white oak barrels, new barrels, and oak and then deep well water. I think that what’s interesting is that a lot of people don’t realize that Casa Dragones is a diffuser tequila but again, that makes sense. It’s a tequila that’s going into a seltzer.
Z: You would be concerned in a way if it was something that was like an ultra-premium tequila that would seem strange.
A: Yes. Again, it’s the same place where they’re making Casa Dragones that people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for so good on you High Noon. I do think it is still for me so far, first one, enjoy it. Wanted a little more tequila. I’m getting a little nervous that the passion fruit is going to be really heavy in the passion fruit and almost no tequila, but let’s get into it.
Z: Let’s find out.
A: I’m just not a passion fruit person but.
Z: Yes, I would say it’s like a middle-of-the-road flavor as far as my preferences. I think it’s less exciting than it could be or, it could be. I don’t know if that’s the word, but there are other flavors I prefer, let’s put it that way. Other tropical-type flavors that I think are more compelling.
A: It’s interesting because then I went back to the grapefruit and now I’m getting more of the tequila and I guess what I want from the grapefruit is like, one of my favorite drinks in the summer is the Spindrift grapefruit, which is tequila and this is reminiscent of that. Yes, I would drink the hell out of the grapefruit. The passion fruit. I agree. It’s just a little bit I can see who it’s for. It’s just not for me. All right, let’s try strawberry.
Z: I feel like I’m getting more agave on this than I did on either of the first two.
A: Yes, I agree. I’m getting a good amount of agave. Like, a decent amount of agave. I’m wondering if that’s because of the strawberry flavor just because it is natural juice right? That it’s just strawberry as a flavor. As a juice flavor isn’t as strawberry as we’ve been taught to understand strawberry flavor when it comes to fake flavors. It’s like a Strawberry Margarita-esq. I’m wondering if in some of these, they thought about and this is where I’m going to get. I think I would doctor this, but we’ll get there in a second. Wait, I’ll reserve my point until we try the last one.
Z: I think it’s a good point, though, that the strawberry flavor in here is actually pretty subdued. For, again, how we think about strawberry sometimes being a very bold flavor, whether it’s in cocktails or in canned beverages in general, is, like, a dominant flavor. You were talking about, like, a Strawberry Margarita. Actually to me, this actually doesn’t particularly remind me of a Strawberry Margarita because I feel like typically when you make that, you’re either making you’re either like muddling strawberries in or you’re getting maybe using a strawberry syrup or something, both of which I think have more intensity of strawberry flavor than this, which is surprisingly delicate. I want to be clear. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing. I think actually the balance on it for how quaffable the seltzers are is not a bad thing. It is way less in my face than if you had asked me which of these I expected to be the most intensely fruit flavored. The strawberry would have been my guess before I opened it, and I think it is not to this point.
A: I agree. And the final, lime.
Z: All right, lime time.
A: This is the one that I was anticipating I would like the most. It tastes the most like tequila by far. By far, yes.
Z: Oh yes. Just because tequila and lime is such an iconic combo for us that it’s just, like, you taste those two things in concert, you’re like, “Yes, I get it.”
A: This is really good. The tequila and lime is really good. Really good. Now what I would do is I would combine the tequila and lime with the tequila strawberry. Tequila, strawberry, lime. Come on Gallo, that was for free. That was for free.
Z: Then a casual double seltzer.
A: Yes, that was for free, guys. I’m sure there’s a lot of other places that do this, but the flavor is really on point here. These are going to kill for them.
Z: Yes, I think that part is not in doubt. It was just one of those things where you’re like, “Okay, you’ve already proven you can make this work with vodka and fruit juice.” As long as you pick your flavors and make them with some degree of care, they’re really good. They’re exactly what you want them to be. I think obviously, they’re hitting the market at the right time. Not that tequila is a seasonal drink anymore, but I think this seltzer, as you pointed out, whether most places, if not already nice as getting there, drinking outside is a big thing. Again, something we’ve talked about on the pod before, but I think really has to be mentioned over and over again, because I think it has not sunk into some of our audience at times is that one of the big selling points for these kinds of drinks is their incredible ease of consumption in that setting. You can throw them in a backpack, you can throw them in a cooler, you can take them pretty much anywhere. It’s just yes, I hear all of those of you who get in our mentions or email us or whatever and are like, but a seltzer never is as good as what Adam was describing before. The actual tequila soda, lime, whether it’s at a wedding or wherever else. There are a lot of use cases for drinks where you don’t have a bar with you. If you don’t recognize that, these are really appealing to people, not just in those settings, but also in bar settings in some cases. Again, because of the consistency and ease and just the reality that you don’t have to think about it, but especially in those settings where a cocktail to order is just an impossibility or a near impossibility like we are better as a drinking public for having options like this that are, I think, way more compelling than maybe some of the first generation of seltzers.
A: Yes, I agree. Now, one thing though that I don’t understand when I’m thinking about this is, so High Noon has done this, I think this will be another very successful skew for them and we’ve seen some other people try, right? There’s a few other tequila seltzers. Again, I think the Ranch Water thing is an issue. My question, don’t you think that if another spirit’s company were to take one of their high-performing spirits and brand it with their spirit and do a tequila soda or tequila seltzer with let’s say Don Julio or Patrón or maybe you wouldn’t do super high-end like, or Casamigos. Don’t you think those would also crush? Because people already like that liquid. They know that liquid and if you could sit on the beach drinking a 4-and-a-half percent Casamigos tequila seltzer, I think people would. Now, look, the liquid might be more expensive, but then again, it can just be branded Casamigos and be a different tequila than the Casamigos tequila that goes in the bottle. You know what I’m saying? I still remain so blown away by the fact that the majority of brands that are winning in the RTD space, because remember I’m calling this an RTD, are still brands besides On The Rocks, which to be fair only had the names of the spirits in it once it was bought by Beam Suntory, are brands that are not spirits brands. It’s unbelievable to me and kudos to those brands. I’m just like, “Huh,” is this because so many of these others — the only brands I think that seem to do it well, two, I guess are Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray with their Gin & Tonics. Again, as I said earlier in the program, I don’t think the Gin & Tonic is as beloved by American consumers as a lot of marketers want it to be. I think it’s a European drink, but I think the tequila soda when 100 percent is, and if you are looking for a competitor to not just other seltzers but a competitor to Modelo and Corona and all of these summer beach beers, nothing I feel like screams drinking on the beach tequila soda and the fact that no tequila brand has a branded tequila soda, boggles my mind.
Z: Yes, I wonder at some level if whether there is just so much concern from the people who run and manage those tequila brands about cheapening the image of the brand that like the aforementioned Patrón, like the package patron soda would either have to come in at a price point that might feel non-competitive with something like High Noon. I don’t think Patrón would ever do what you suggested to the Casamigos too. Because they’re too conscientious in a way about the quality and the reputation of the tequila. It becomes a difficult circle to square when you’re trying to make a shelf competitive price, competitive RTD using a spirit that just has a higher price point than this perfectly fine, but unnamed contract distilled tequila. I also think the other piece of it that I’m not sure about, and again, I’m not sure about that. Again, listeners, if you have thoughts on this, we’d love to hear — [email protected]. It’s a topic you and I have discussed a few different times over the last few years and I am still not sure how I feel about it. To what extent does — where does brand loyalty come into play here? Are people who like this kind of drink brand loyal to High Noon because they’ve enjoyed High Noon products before and are more willing to take the step into a tequila seltzer with High Noon? Or are they brand loyal to a tequila? I think the answer is probably some of both, of course, but there’s a part of me that wonders if the other thing that these tequila brands are being cautious about is not just the reputation of the tequila that would be in the product, but also not getting their access handed to them by a wine company. I think that is a consideration here.
A: Well, look, they’re not just a wine company anymore, they’re a spirits company as well.
Z: I know, but you have to — that’s how they are thought of glibly, and I think if you are a big spirits company or even a big spirits brand, and you’re like, “Yes, we tried to go toe to toe with High Noon and Gallo and they kicked our ass because whatever, they understand this market segment better or their product was better, or their product was more price competitive, or they had better distro or whatever.” You don’t want to be coming back to your shareholders and to your — to the top execs being like, “Yes, we tried it and they kicked our ass.” I’m not saying that’s what would happen, but I think there’s a fear of-
A: Right. High Noon still destroyed, right?
Z: -being beaten down.
A: It’s totally true. Look, I have to say, I mean, we featured him in the VP 50 this year, Britt West, who is the head of spirit at Gallo. He’s done a f*cking phenomenal job, and what he has done with that division is extremely impressive. The fact that, again, he comes from the spirits back — spirits companies before this, always spirits, so he obviously knows what he’s doing. Yes, I think that that can’t be understated actually, you’re right. If you are Diageo and you launch a Casamigos Canned Seltzer, and right now Casamigos as a Tequila is on fire, right? It’s growing super fast. It’s taking away share from a lot of super premium tequilas like Clase Azul, et cetera. It’s just booming, right? You’re like, “F*ck it. We’re going all in on canned seltzer too,” and then High Noon kicks your ass. That hurts the overall brand, you’re right. At that point, you’re just like, “Yes, maybe we’ll stay in our lane and let them own summer.” Crazy. Well, if you’ve tried these, let us know what you think. If you tried other tequila seltzers, a tequila soda, let us know what you think. If you tried Ranch Water, I don’t want to hear about it but hit us up on our podcasts at thevinepair.com, and have a great weekend. Zach and I will talk to you on Monday.
Z: Sounds great.
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