The Story Behind The Ranch Water
Perfect to beat the arid West Texas heat, this one-time rancher staple has soared to nationwide popularity in recent years. While its composition is simple — just tequila, lime, and Topo Chico mineral water — by no means is this cocktail lacking in complexity. The über-effervescent water is the ideal partner for tequila, complementing its earthy, mineral notes while still allowing the spirit's character to shine.
Some may be tempted to build this cocktail in a Collins glass. But Taylor Samuels, owner of Dallas’s Las Almas Rotas, prefers to enjoy Ranch Water exactly as those who inspired its recipe did. “It's so easy to just open a bottle of Topo Chico, pour a little bit out, and then replace those ounces with tequila (or mezcal) and lime,” he says. “It literally was a way for ranchers to have a happy hour.”
Today, Ranch Water might be more easily recognized in its ready-to-drink canned form — companies like Modelo, Karbach, Dos Equis, and even Topo Chico all creating their own versions of the cocktail to be enjoyed without any mixing necessary.
If you want to live like a West Texan, enjoy an authentic rancher happy hour using Samuels’ recipe below.
Looking for a canned ranch water? See our complete guide to canned ranch water seltzers here!
- 12-ounce bottle Topo Chico, chilled
- 1 ½ ounces blanco tequila
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- Start by pouring out (or drinking) two ounces of the Topo Chico.
- Add the tequila then lime juice to the Topo Chico bottle.
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Ranch Water FAQs
What is a Ranch Water made of?
A Ranch Water is made by combining Topo Chico, tequila, and lime juice.
Is Ranch Water a Texas thing?
Yes, Ranch Water is a Texas thing. As the story goes, the cocktail was invented by West Texan ranchers who, looking for a way to cool off after a day in the sun, would take a drink of Topo Chico and then add tequila and lime juice for an easy on-the-go happy hour.
What’s the best tequila for Ranch Water?
The best tequila to use for Ranch Water is blanco tequila.
Is Topo Chico required for Ranch Water?
To make a true Ranch Water cocktail, Topo Chico is essential — many Texans say the sparkling water brand is a nonnegotiable component of the recipe.
The History Of Ranch Water
Several theories are in circulation regarding the true origins of the cocktail beloved by West Texans. The most prominent theory suggests that the cocktail was created by West Texas ranchers who would take a swig of Topo Chico in the late afternoon heat, replacing the lost liquid with tequila and enjoying an on-the-go happy hour. With West Texas’ close proximity to the Mexican border, it makes perfect sense that the refreshing mineral water from Monterrey — rumored to have healed an Aztec princess with a disease no doctors could cure — would be joined with the Mexican spirit.
Another theory argues that the namesake of the drink is a derivative of the popular cocktail Bourbon and Branch, less commonly referred to now as Bourbon and Branch Water. The cocktail, a mixture of bourbon and cool, flat water enjoyed in a highball glass, was famously enjoyed once a day by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Given that the Bourbon and Branch Water is enjoyed with flat water, it’s possible that ranchers in West Texas, drinking their carbonated water and tequila concoctions during the LBJ administration, dubbed their version the Ranch Water; many Texans recall drinking ranch waters without even knowing the true name of the cocktail. The word-of-mouth cocktail wasn't officially added to the historic White Buffalo Bar under the name “Ranch Water” until 2010.
Over the years, Ranch Water has been enjoyed in many variations by different people. Kevin Williamson, owner of Austin restaurant and bar Ranch 616, says he discovered his own variation around the year 2000 when he used Topo Chico to top off the Margarita he was enjoying. He later played around with the recipe, switching from a gold reposado to silver tequila and adding fresh lime juice. His version even includes a dash of orange cordial to add a more robust flavoring. Williamson serves his version of the Ranch Water with the tequila, lime juice and, orange cordial in a glass, with an entire bottle of Topo Chico served on the side, giving patrons the option to choose the strength of their drink.