Texans understand the balmy, oppressive heat of summer better than most. It’s not a surprise, then, that West Texas is the birthplace of Ranch Water, a refreshing tequila-based cocktail that’s ideal to sip on a sweltering day.
So what is Ranch Water? Well, it’s really just the Texas name for a tequila highball. It’s typically made with blanco tequila, Topo Chico sparkling mineral water, and garnished with lime. Often, tequila and a squeeze of lime are added directly to the long-necked bottle. How is that different from the tequila and soda folks have been ordering for years? It’s not really. But it’s a much cooler, more marketable title. And besides, a Ranch Water by any other name is still as refreshing.
“Prior to my trip to Texas last month, I had not been exposed to the refreshing unofficial cocktail of West Texas,” says José Guzmán, Bar Manager at Fine & Rare in Manhattan. “But the Topo Chico makes for a light, smooth, easy-to-drink cocktail perfect for summer.”
indeed. While legend credits the drink’s invention to a West Texas rancher in the 1960s, the title Ranch Water was concocted at the White Buffalo Bar at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas in 2010. Since then the cocktail has risen in popularity, with bartenders around the country serving up variations. There’s also a hard seltzer take on it because of course there is.
In its basic form, Ranch Water is incredibly simple. But it basically screams for a personal interpretation. Like yours spicy? great. Want a little sweetness? no problem. It’s made to be tinkered with. So, in case you want your Ranch Water recipe kicked up a notch, we asked six bartenders to offer their go-to twist. Here’s what they do.
1. Agua de Mi Rancho
Fresh fruit and herbs can give the basic Ranch Water a huge flavor lift. Jaime Ortiz, Food & Beverage Manager at the Rosewood Baha Mar’s Costa restaurant, takes inspiration from his roots for his elevated ranch water recipe. “In ‘Mi Rancho’ (my hometown), the hot summer weather signals the best time of the year to get sweet pineapples,” Ortiz says. In the season “we use them for everything along with the mezcal, creating what we call the best medicine ever: ‘Para todo mal mezcal; y para todo bien tambien …y si no hay remedio: un litro y medio’(For all evil, mezcal; for all good, too… and if there is no remedy: a liter and a half.)
- 3 oz. Blanco Mezcal (Mezcal joven)
- 1 oz. Fresh lime juice
- 2 slices of fresh pineapple
- Sprig or cilantro
- Chilled Topo Chico (sparkling water)
Build the cocktail in a glass over ice.
2. The ND Street Bar Ranch Water
Some might find the traditional ranch water recipe skews to the tart side and could use a little sweetness. So if you’re not counting calories, NDstreetBAR’s beverage director Matty Carroll’s recipe adds a dash of agave syrup to enhance the naturally sweeter notes of the tequila. “Simple and delicious; it’s the perfect summer sipper.” He says. For a ‘laid-back presentation, Carroll also suggests serving the drink in a Topo Chico bottle.
- 1 bottle Topo Chico sparkling water
- 1.5 oz. Corazon or Exotico Blanco tequila
- .5 oz. lime juice
- .5 oz. agave syrup
Build the cocktail in a glass over ice, or the Topo Chico bottle.
3. The Miami Pool Boy
Want your Ranch Water with a bit of a kick? Frankie Sciuto, owner of San Diego’s Side Bar brings the heat in his interpretation with a cajun rim and muddled peppers. “This is a tropical vacation in a glass,” he says. “It gives you the feeling “of an ice-cold beverage being delivered to your poolside cabana on a hot summer day – without all the sugar and syrups.”
- Cajun spice mix
- 1.5 oz. Blanc Tequila
- 0.75oz. Agave
- 0.5 oz. Lime
- 1 oz. Pineapple Juice
- 3-4 sliced muddled serrano peppers or jalapeno
Rim a glass with cajun spice mix, fill with ice, and build the cocktail. Top with soda.
4. Summer Breeze
While lime is the traditional fruit associated with Ranch Water, it’s fun to experiment with other fresh flavors. Isaac Ortega, Food and Beverage Manager at the Grand Solmar restaurant at Land’s End Resort and Spa in Los Cabos, subs out lime for rosemary and adds a bit of grapefruit for some pungency. “Grapefruit and rosemary make a refreshing and herbaceous combination that set it apart from the typical ranch water,” he says.
- 2 oz. white tequila
- Club Soda
- 2 oz. pink grapefruit
- Rosemary on top
Build the cocktail in a glass over ice.
5. Spruce Tip Ranch Water
Fresh, locally sourced ingredients make cocktails all the more special. For Alaskans fruits like pineapples and citrus aren’t native, but they can find unique flavors growing on trees. “This cocktail is unique and familiar to Ketchikan with its locally harvested spruce tips made into a simple syrup,” says Jason Koss, Timbers Restaurant Manager at Salmon Falls Resort. The spruce tips offer a light flavor of resin with hints of citrus. “The ingredients balance out and give this drink subtle yet delightful notes,” he says, while the bubbles and minerals from the San Pellegrino “give it a lively finish.”
- 2 oz. Blanc Tequila
- 1 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
- 1 oz. Spruce Tip Simple Syrup*
- Sparkling water
Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake and strain over fresh ice. Top with San Pellegrino and garnish with fresh thyme and either a fresh lime or a dehydrated one.
†To Make the Spruce Tip Syrup
“At the beginning stages when spruce tips are coming out of their casings, spruce tips are very tender and have a fresh flavor,” says Koss. “This is the perfect time to pick them.” Add equal parts of sugar and water to a pan and bring to a boil. Then steep with either Fir, Pine or Spruce Tips for between 30 minutes or up to 24 hours and strain.
For a store-bought replacement, use Torani Almond Orgeat Syrup in the same increment as in the recipe.
6. The Fine & Rare Ranch Water
Blanco tequila is a relatively easy spirit to infuse with flavors you love. Instead of whole fruit José Guzmán, Bar Manager at Fine & Rare uses citrus zest to punch up his infusion and the cocktail. “Even though the recipe calls for lime juice, the oils of the lime-grapefruit infusion enhance those citrus flavors,” Guzman says.
- 1 1/2 oz. white tequila
- 6 limes
- 6 grapefruits
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
- 3 oz. Topo Chico
Add the zest of six limes and six grapefruits into a bottle of Blanco tequila. Let the zest infuse the tequila for a day and then strain. Add tequila and lime to an ice-filed shaker. Shake and strain into a Collins glass full of ice and top off with Topo Chico. For a bit of flair, garnish with a mint sprig.