It was a canned drink 100 years in the making. Inspired by her pioneering great-grandfather, who established a ranch in far West Texas, Southern Methodist University graduate Katie Beal Brown is now putting her spin on her family’s staple drink: Ranch Water.
A long-time Texas classic, Ranch Water is a blend of tequila, Topo Chico, lime juice, and a splash of simple syrup—often described as a crude version of something that seemed half Tom Collins and half Margarita.
Brown and her husband, Tyler, went straight to Jalisco, Mexico, to find the perfect tequila and then spent the next two years working on how to make a hard seltzer version.
What was meant to stock shelves for six weeks sold out in a week, Brown said about the first distribution of the product.
“On the first day, I picked up the phone and called [a local retailer] just to see if anyone had been in to buy it. And they said, ‘We’ve had it for less than 24 hours, and it’s almost sold out,’” Brown told D CEO. “I could not believe it, because we had just been through such a wild ride to get it out there. But also, just the feeling that people, who we don’t know, are out there buying a product that we created.”
Since Lone River Beverage Company’s launched its Ranch Water in mid-April, monthly orders have increased 1,150 percent. Lone River has had to double orders to distributors every month since.
The sales “exceeded all expectations,” as the yearly projections were surpassed within the first three months, said Kevin Nettleton, general manager of Dallas-based Ben E. Keith’s specialty division.
Nettleton said when looking for new products to distribute, “it’s gotta be quality liquid, it’s gotta have impressive branding, and they have to have a good market plan. Lone River had all three of those.
“The market place is very crowded and so to create a point of difference between your brand to make it more visible than the other brands at retail, you need that point of difference, which was provided by unique branding with Lone River. The logo on the can and the color scheme is very, very Texan, and it stood apart,” he added.
After graduating from SMU, Brown moved out of state with her college sweetheart. Two things never changed: missing home and missing ranch water.
“I kept grabbing for ranch water as a reminder of home, and I started introducing my friends to it. Everybody kept asking, ‘what is this, where does it come from?’ and all I knew was it was a reminder of home—almost a badge of Texan-ness,” she said.
That’s when Brown hit the books to learn about the history behind the drink, which she shares on the back of each can.
The process of developing and branding the drink was long, Brown said.
In 2017, while working for an advertising firm in New York City, a company-wide pitching competition to gain access to some of the top designers and strategists in the world was announced. Brown won—and so did canned ranch water.
“We were able to work with these incredible designers and strategists to bring this vision to life of a brand that celebrates far West Texas, the legend behind ranch water, and the original recipe,” she said.
When designing the branding behind Lone River’s ranch water, Brown said it was essential to ensure they carved out a point of differentiation in the hard seltzer category, which she said tends to be filled with mimicking bright, colorful pallets.
Instead, they draw inspiration from the natural elements found in far North Texas and a more masculine feeling with a white can and black stuccoed outlines of Texas, a longhorn, sunrise, and river wrapped on the exterior of the can.
“We wanted to use iconography to help visually tell the story behind our brand, and then behind our product itself,” said Brown.
The brand’s logo, a blended mix of a forked stick and a modernized cattle logo, represents the early way Texans used to find rivers—and the independence of the brand itself.
“With a lone river, you don’t have to adapt and do what everyone else is doing,” Brown said. “You can stand on your own. I think that’s very much the spirit of what we’re looking to do.”
Now, Lone River is adding to its signature brand with two new flavors: Rio Red Grapefruit and Spicy, both created in honor of the state fruit and state pepper.
Though hard seltzers are trendiest in summers, said Brown, they’re still hopeful for future growth. To date, Ranch Water has hit the top five hard seltzer brands in the state of Texas, but the goal, she said, is to make it in the top five regionally in terms of monthly sales volume, “and I would say in certain parts of Texas, we’re probably already there.”