Said to have been first created by Kevin Williamson, the chef founder of Ranch 616 restaurant in downtown Austin back in the late 1990s, Ranch Water is an iconic cocktail popular throughout Texas. Deceptively simple, it's traditionally composed of a mix of tequila, lime, and Topo Chico sparkling mineral water. It's also a long-time favorite of Adam Love, Royce Itschner, and Dub Sutherland, three friends and founders of Epic Western Cocktail Co.
"The three of us were always making Ranch Water for people," Love recalls. "Back in September of 2019, we were on a dove hunt with a bunch of real estate agents, engineers, and architects and again found ourselves playing bartender the whole time. One of us kind of jokingly said, 'Someone should can this because it sure would make life easier.' But we all had day jobs at the time."
Fast-forward to February 2020 and Love, a real estate developer, suddenly found himself with plenty of free time on his hands when a big retail project fell through due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My project blew up, and the world was falling apart," Love explains. "We didn't know when this thing was going to end. I called my -- now -- two partners, simply because I was so bored."
Deputized to pursue the trio's dream of mass-producing Ranch Water in a can, Love consulted with an attorney who was an expert in liquor licensing laws. Love and his partners had been taste-testing other canned Ranch Water cocktails on the market and discovered they all tasted flat, chalky, and didn't actually utilize tequila. "I asked her why no one was canning with 100 percent blue agave tequila," Love continues. "And she said that in order to [use it], it would have to be canned in the region where [the tequila] is made in Mexico."
Love reached out to some contacts in the beverage industry, though he figured it was a longshot. One of them was actually able to put him in touch with a distillery in Mexico that was willing to co-pack the product. The only problem? "We didn't yet have a product," Love says. "We still just had an idea."
Undaunted, Love had 750 bottles of the tequila they intended to use shipped to his home in San Antonio and then on to a test kitchen hired to produce Ranch Water samples. The first batch of three was an unmitigated failure.
"They were terrible," Love recounts. "I mean, we couldn't get through half the cans. But we were hardheaded enough to keep going, so we found a lime component made with real lime. We bought it in bulk, shipped it to the test kitchen, and samples four, five, and six were produced."
Though the second batch had a more natural flavor, the samples were flat due to the pasteurization required when a canned beverage is below a certain ABV -- or alcohol by volume.
"If you know what a true Ranch Water is, it's made with Topo Chico, which is highly carbonated," Love says. "Looking back, [the second batch] was a twofold blessing. We needed the product to be more carbonated, and we were trying to produce a cocktail in a can. Not a seltzer. Not a beer. We really wanted to be the premium side of the ready-to-drink market. And if we couldn't make it like we make it at home, we weren't going to do it. So, we simply said, 'Well, let's make a stronger drink.'"
The third batch of samples came in at 10 percent ABV. "When we tried them, we knew that was it," Love says. "Samples seven and eight were the moment we knew we had a product. We had a blind tasting with family and friends, and what we poured out of the can was chosen over what we were making by hand."
After securing funding and hiring an Austin-based marketing firm to help them build out their brand concept, Love and his partners placed their first order for 10,800 cases of Epic Western Cocktail Co. Ranch Water. Made with 100 percent blue agave tequila produced by the family-owned distillery serving as a co-packer in Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico, the canned cocktail also contains certified Mexican mineral water sourced from a local well, lime, and a dash of sea salt.
Demand for the product has increased rapidly, and Epic Western Cocktail Co. has had to rapidly increase distribution to keep pace. The company's canned cocktails are mixed and packaged at the distillery and then shipped to the Mexico-U.S. border, where they are picked up by Tri-City Distributors of New Braunfels, Texas.
Consumers can currently find the company's premium canned Ranch Water and two new cocktail varieties -- Chispa Rita and La Paloma -- across Texas and Nevada. Distribution will begin in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina by the end of summer.
"We have a fourth SKU coming as well," Love says. "That's going to be a jalapeno-infused Ranch Water. We'll have a variety pack coming out, too. Hopefully in early summer."