In 2018, we saw the rise of hard seltzer. Then we declared 2019 the year of the canned cocktail. Both have only increased in popularity since, so it seems natural that they’d intersect in the form of the canned tequila soda.
I’ll be honest: I find hard seltzer to be potable but dull, and most of the canned cocktails that I’ve experienced have felt as saccharine and one-note as a Jack and Coke. But the thought of simply combining two things I enjoy independently—tequila and carbonated water—without added sugars or syrups sounds enticing.
The combo of tequila and soda is sometimes dismissed as a boring “I’m just watching my calories” dram, and that the two ingredients even constitute a cocktail is debatable. But there is some cultural evidence in its favor: For decades, West Texans have been mixing tequila (or sotol) with Topo Chico and lime juice to make a no-fuss heat reliever dubbed the Ranch Water.
Also in the drinks’ favor: 2020 is damned hot. So, with an open mind and a great need for refreshment, I sampled the canned tequila sodas below.
Launched this June, Volley has positioned itself as the “first clean tequila seltzer on the market,” and does so without added sugars, essences, or natural flavorings. Instead, it relies solely on three ingredients: organic fruit juices, 100% blue agave tequila, and sparkling water. The 5.5% ABV, 110-calorie drink is sold in packs of four that cost $13.99 and include Zesty Lime, Spicy Ginger, Tropical Mango, and Sharp Grapefruit flavors.
Every one of Volley’s expressions proved light and crisp, with a satisfyingly high level of carbonation. Its fruit flavors were sharp and acidic rather than sweet. My favorites were the Zesty Lime and Sharp Grapefruit, which delivered refreshment without hiding the tequila. While still enjoyable, the Spicy Ginger and Tropical Mango crowded out the spirit somewhat, reducing the drink’s complexity and interest.
Ranch Rider Spirits
Austin’s Ranch Rider Spirits also swears off sugar and relies on non-concentrate, freshly-squeezed citrus juices for its flavoring. Its two tequila-based cans—a classic Ranch Water with lime juice and a Tequila Paloma with orange, grapefruit, and lime juices—are made with reposado tequila. Each are below 125 calories, carry an ABV of 6% and are sold in packs of 4 for $12.99.
The first thing that stands out in both expressions is the high level of carbonation, which compares favorably with the famously fizzy Topo Chico. The Ranch Water’s lime element is fresh and bracing but doesn’t overshadow the deeper and more pronounced agave flavors of its aged tequila. The same goes for the Paloma, which is made zingy by its citrus juices but still packs real tequila flavor.
Unlike the entries above, Cutwater’s scope isn’t primarily focused on merging tequila with soda. The San Diego-based company produces 16 canned cocktails, which range from a simple Rum & Cola to a Mai Tai.
And unlike most makers of packaged drinks, Cutwater produces and sells its own spirits. Fittingly, their Ranch Water-inspired Tequila Soda is made with Cutwater Tequila, as well as natural lime flavor and Cutwater’s own soda water. The 7% ABV drink contains 130 calories, and is sold in four-packs for $10-12.
Cutwater’s Tequila Soda proved to be the least fizz-forward of the three, and its lime component felt less fresh and bracing, and a bit closer to background noise. The tequila—in this case, Cutwater Tequila Blanco—was still present, and pleasantly grassy.
I’d now consider myself a fan of the canned tequila soda, which makes for a great beer alternative without the mind-numbing blandness of canned seltzers, nor the enamel-eating sugar high of many canned cocktails.
While I enjoyed all three, they had clear differences. Cutwater had a lower carbonation level, fainter citrus, and a detectable but tamer tequila presence. Volley’s high carbonation and fresh fruit flavors made for a great drink, though I enjoyed the citrus-based variants most. Ultimately, Ranch Rider burrowed the deepest into my heart thanks to its blitz of bubbles and an embrace of bolder reposado tequila.