If there was ever a beverage built for day drinking, it’s Ranch Water. The simple cocktail, born in Texas, can take the sting out of the hottest days and refresh you to the core, without knocking you out with an abundance of alcohol.
We’re still hibernating our way through winter but the days are getting longer and, soon enough, the warmth will return. When that happens, you’d be wise to have some Ranch Water on hand for you and yours. Lighter than a Margarita and far more interesting than plain water, the drink resides in a happy middle ground. Better, it’ll tackle your thirst and keep you functional.
To be honest, I didn’t think much of the drink until a heat wave broke out last year. It was too hot to work, too hot to eat, too hot to do just about anything. Except drink.
Ranch Water played a cameo I’m still grateful for today. The zesty, relatively low-ABV beverage cooled my core and powered me past all of the associated hot weather hangups (the swamp crotch, the fatigue, the mild hallucinations). It’s a drink you can enjoy all day without getting tanked. Better, it’s easy to make—an underrated feature given the fact that the last thing you want to be doing on a scorching day is overexerting yourself.
David Alan, the Director of Trade Education and Mixology at Patron, knows a lot about this drink. He’s from Austin and has watched it blossom from ranch cocktail to a trending order at bars all over. He says it began as a mainstay at Ranch 616 in Austin, Texas before being picked up and exported by the Marfa crowd.
“It has become so popular that its origins have been obscured, but if there is another person who can credibly claim to have invented the drink, I have not found that source yet,” he says. For the original recipe, he’s inclined to go with what Ranch 616 does.
“In many places, the drink has been simplified—bartenders will open a Topo, pour out some of the bubbly water, and add tequila and lime juice directly to the bottle,” he says. “I think this is a refreshing drink, but I prefer the ‘classic’ Ranch Water, served tall and with the orange liqueur to balance out the drink.”
Alan is quick to call out those who just think the drink is a tequila and soda. The lime, he says, is more than a garnish. It’s a major player (“there is quite a bit more of it than you would get from just squeezing the lime garnish on a Tequila Soda,” he remarks). Then there’s the mineral water. “Second, it has to be sparkling mineral water from Mexico,” he says. “By definition, the Ranch Water requires Topo Chico, or you will also see it made with Mineragua or Tehuacan. But soda water off the gun does not a Ranch Water make!”
As per usual these days, there are canned options for this drink. Ranch Rider out of Austin makes a formidable one, for what it’s worth. But you’re a capable person, even with the merciless sun looking you dead in the eye. Let’s begin with tequila: This is not a drink for brown spirits. Put the aged tequila down and go with blanco. It’s light and full of finesse, exactly what you’re after with this particular cocktail. We’re going for uplifting here, not hot and heavy.
As much as we love three-ingredient cocktails such as this, you can dress it up a bit if you feel so inclined. Those with a sweet tooth are encouraged to throw in a float of Triple Sec or simple syrup. Mezcal fans can add an ounce to the recipe below for a smoky kick. And fresh peppers or citrus wedges are always welcome, as garnishes and added flavors.
Also, let’s not overlook the ice. With minimal drinks like this, frozen water can make or break things. Make sure your ice is fresh, as in, hasn’t been sitting in your freezer for more than a few days. If your ice trays share freezer space with food, make certain the latter is sealed up snugly to prevent odors and off-flavors from infiltrating the ice. The last thing you want is a ranch water that tastes vaguely of corn dogs or sweet potato fries.
Here are a couple of great Ranch Water
Standard Ranch Water
This is easily one of the best summer cocktails, simple, effective, and delicious. Try playing around with different tequilas and always use fresh lime juice.
- 1 1/2 ounces tequila (we suggest Patron Silver or Hiatus Blanco)
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 1 bottle (12 ounces) Topo Chico
- Combine tequila and lime juice in a Collins glass filled with ice.
- Top with soda water and stir gently to combine.
Original Ranch Water
As Alan says, hold on to the extra mineral water with this recipe and serve what’s left in the bottle with the cocktail. “As you drink down the drink, you keep topping it off with the Topo Chico, so the drink evolves as you drink it,” he says.
- 2 parts tequila
- 1 part Citrónage orange liqueur
- 1 part lime juice
- Topo Chico
- Combine ingredients in a glass and top with Topo Chico.
- Continue to top when necessary.
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