Margaritas are the quintessential happy hour drink, and it’s clear why: Their refreshing balance of sweet, salty and sour flavors contains the perfect amount of tequila for a boozy sip. But if you’d prefer something that’s a little lighter — both in alcohol and calories — try the skinnier version of a margarita, better known as “ranch water.”
This drink hails from West Texas yet is beloved everywhere since it boasts the same citrusy and sour taste as a margarita just with less than half the calories. Also, you can whip up a ranch water cocktail using just three ingredients. Keep scrolling to learn more about this Texas classic and how to make one at home.
What is ranch water?
Ranch water is a drink that Ian Blessing, co-founder and owner of All The Bitter, describes as “a tequila and soda with lime.” While ranch water is simple in nature, its fizziness makes it extra special when compared to a standard margarita. “What sets it apart is that the drink is made with Topo Chico — an especially effervescent mineral water bottled just south of Texas in Monterrey, Mexico — and it’s often built directly in the glass bottle,” Blessing says.
When did ranch water become popular?
Ranch water’s exact history is a mystery. Some believe it was born out of a rancher’s need to quench their thirst after a long journey, while others claim it was created by a restaurant owner. “Legend says that the drink was invented by a rancher in the 1960s in Fort Davis who followed the West Texas stars all the way to Marathon [a town in Texas] on foot and passed out under a piñon tree,” Blessing explains. “Whatever the actual story is, the drink was eventually put on the menu at Ranch 616 in Austin in 1998, where the owner Kevin Williamson claimed to have invented it, even applying for a trademark.”
Despite ranch water’s muddled history, you can find it on bar menus in Texas and across the country. Ranch water is also sold in cans as a ready to drink cocktail. These are a couple of ways to experience the deliciousness of ranch water, but it’s just as easy to channel your inner home bartender and make one in less than five minutes.
How to make ranch water
Ranch water is the perfect single-serve cocktail that typically clocks in at 130 calories. Here, Blessing shares two ranch water recipes: a traditional one and an alcohol-free version that he promises “hits all the same grassy, spicy notes as a great blanco tequila [drink] but without any booze.” Try them out and see how quickly they become your favorite drinks!
Traditional Ranch Water Recipe
- 1 (12 oz.) bottle Topo Chico (Buy from Walmart, $26.99)
- 2 oz. blanco tequila
- A generous squeeze of lime juice
- Pour out few ounces of Topo Chico.
- With remaining mineral water in bottle, add shot of blanco tequila and squeeze of lime juice. Cover bottle opening with your thumb or bottle cap and turn upside down for 1 second to combine.
- Serve cocktail in glass filled with ice and sip.
‘All Day’ Nonalcoholic Ranch Water Recipe
- 2 oz. zero-proof tequila alternative such as Trejo’s Spirits Tequila Alternative (Buy from TrejosSpirits.com, $36)
- ½ oz. fresh lime juice
- 3 full droppers All The Bitter Orange bitters (Buy from AlltheBitter.com, $26.50)
- 1 (12 oz.) bottle Topo Chico
- Pour out few ounces of Topo Chico.
- Add lime juice, bitters and tequila alternative directly to bottle. With your thumb or cap over top of bottle, invert briefly to combine.
- Once combined, pour ranch water into glass filled with ice and enjoy.
How to give your cocktail a flavor upgrade
Don’t hesitate to add other ingredients to this cocktail to give it a spicy or sweet taste. Start with these four ideas for flavoring ranch water, taste and adjust as needed.
- Add a splash of orange or grapefruit juice for extra zing.
- Pour in orange liqueur or simple syrup to taste for added sweetness.
- Mix in a heaping tablespoon of peach or mango purée for a fruity flavor.
- Garnish the drink with a sprinkle of chili powder for a spicy kick.
With your homemade ranch water cocktail in hand, sip it while spending time in the sun or enjoying a BBQ feast. You’ll be amazed at how well it cools you down even on the hottest days. Ranch water isn’t the only drink that’s giving margaritas a run for their money. The Paloma and pineapple margaritas are other tequila-based drinks worth raising a glass to all summer long — cheers!
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