In hindsight, this was bound to happen. Between the race to rule the ready-to-drink industry, the rise and fall of White Claw and both agave spirits and the RTD categories rapidly growing in popularity, Ranch Water—the easy combination of tequila and sparkling mineral water—was destined for our coolers.
Still, when a group of Punch editors assembled to taste through more than 20 options, the sheer number of cans available—many of them launched in the past two years—was surprising, especially considering that the cocktail only recently reached national name recognition. No other cocktail, it seems, rivals the drink’s RTD reach, unless you count the loosely labeled “spritzes.”
With names like Lone River, ShotGun and Epic Western, the cans are selling more than tequila and bubbles; they’re selling lore. As Monique Ramos, brand director for Ranch Rider Spirits (which in 2019 became the first company to sell a canned version), says, “The Western trend has also helped to popularize the drink—no matter where you are, you can feel like a cowboy when you crack open a Ranch Water.” Born in West Texas, the original was a word-of-mouth drink, often served in a Topo Chico bottle, enjoyed at ice houses. Compared to hard seltzer, which has no origin story other than the American tendency to make zero-proof drinks alcoholic, we know exactly what’s in a Ranch Water. It’s not reinventing the wheel.
And yet, while Ranch Water appeals to those who might scoff at the vague combination of malt spirit and “natural flavor” in a White Claw, the category is not without its own flavor variations. Some are thoughtful—I found it particularly charming that prickly pear is a common RTD Ranch Water flavor, maybe because I, too, was sold on the desert theme—while others made the drink taste too much like a sugary soda.
Even with so many flavors—blood orange to mushroom—the cans that stood out the most did so because, in keeping with the original, they demonstrated a pared-back approach. Shad Kvetko, owner of the Dallas mezcalería Las Almas Rotas, says Ranch Water as a cocktail has become so beloved because it’s a “simple, approachable and refreshing drink that doesn’t mask the base spirit.” We found this to be true of our favorite canned iterations, too, preferring those that prominently featured tequila or mezcal over a general “alcohol base” that hard seltzers typically rely on. It’s important to note that some of the key players in RTD canned Ranch Water, such as versions from local Texas brewers and most crucially, Topo Chico itself, could not be gathered by our East Coast team.
Below are our recommendations. Beyond a single brand or flavor of choice, though, what was most key to a can’s success, we found, was serving it as ice-cold as possible.