As addictions go, sparkling water is pretty benign — it’s as healthy as regular water, with the only real risk being the possibility of burping on a date or something. And that’s good news, because in the non-alcoholic beverage world, sparkling water is as hot as it gets. It’s like methadone or nicotine gum for recovering soda addicts looking to score some of the same satisfaction without drinking a zillion calories a day.
Here in Texas, “sparkling water” is basically another name for Topo Chico. The 120-year-old company out of Monterrey, Mexico, bottles its gold in the name of an old Aztec legend. It’s the choice of bar-goers looking for a soft drink, bartenders looking for a mixer, or anyone who wants some fizz without any calories or artificial whatevers. But its supremacy is about to get a new challenger in the form of Austin-based Rambler, a sparkling water brand launched by a group of businessmen who plan to make “filtered with Texas limestone” the new buzz phrase in the sparkling water game.
The men behind Rambler are former MillerCoors CEO Leo Kiely, Bill Kiely, Jay Russell of Austin ad agency GSD&M, Jeff Trucksess, Dave Mead, and Mohawk owner and Transmission Events founder James Moody. We caught up with Moody to learn how Rambler plans to compete against Topo Chico when it hits shelves in late fall.
So why Rambler?
When you and I grew up, it was kind of normal to get a Dr. Pepper when you were a kid after a soccer game or something, and that was supposed to be refreshing. I think as time’s gone by, and the health movement in food, moms started moving over to soda alternatives. And it’s started to bleed its way into the fridge at home, and into the office. For a while, I was hooked on Diet Coke — I needed like two of them a day. And I got off of it maybe three years ago, and shit, man, it changed so many things. I felt better, I lost weight, energy changed, all that stuff. When that happened, we started looking around, and one thing that was really cool is that Texas was ahead of the game in terms of drinking sparkling water casually, with Topo Chico. But a lot of these are made in Italy, and France, and Mexico. Those were most of what we could think of, or find.
Texans love Topo Chico. How does Rambler compete with that?
Well, we’re Topo Chico drinkers. I had one today. Everybody has ‘em in their fridge at home. It’s not so much that we’re Topo Chico drinkers, though, as that we’re sparkling water drinkers. What I noticed in Austin in particular is that Topo kind of sits in coffee shops and bars uncontested. It’s the only option. And people want options. I know this from the beverage business in general, being a bar owner. So it’s less about taking down Topo Chico, since it’s something we love and appreciate and always have, and it’s more about getting in the category and doing something that’s Texas, and that’s Austin, and giving people options, just like people do in the craft beer world. So if you think of it as a craft sparkling water, it’s really that — just another option when you’re considering. Not only is this stuff great with your espresso in the morning, or in the afternoon at work, but mixing this stuff with drinks at a bar is way better than mixing with soda water out of the gun, which is what we’ve done in America over the last forty years. So it’s really about that. And for us, understanding the quality of these waters—and when you carry a water, you carry the good and the bad with it. And there’s a lot you can do with technology today to focus on the positive. So we’re going to have a different product, that provides a good option that’s made in Texas, and carries the same spirit you get from Lone Star beer, or any great Texas product.
Can you taste a difference between Rambler and Topo Chico?
Absolutely. It’s crazy that you ask me that question, because I don’t know that I could have a couple of years ago. But the water lab folks we work with have taught us about taste and smells and minerality and breaking it down. Part of our filtration process, which is all still ongoing as we perfect it, is about deconstructing and reconstructing so we can focus on the positive attributes. You can start to taste the minerals, and adjust them to what changes the taste. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as sour water, but the more minerality and more sulfur, it starts to change the flavor of the water and even the smell of it. It’s very nuanced and very subtle, but it is different. The best way to describe it is if you were to drink a Pellegrino, a Perrier, a Topo Chico, and a LaCroix, it’d be pretty easy to tell the difference, if you were interested in telling the difference.
So what does Rambler taste like?
Rambler is pretty crisp. It’s gonna have a pretty high bubble profile. The carbonation factor is going to be pretty strong — it’s gonna be stronger than LaCroix, and similar to Topo. It’s a clean, crisp, honest little water. One thing we wanted to make sure of is that it’s not so taste oriented itself that it couldn’t be complementary with other beverages. So if the taste is too powerful, like Pellegrino on its own, you don’t want to mix it with other things. So it’s going to have a very complementary flavor profile.
What mixes well with Rambler?
Well, we’ve been working on that. Natural juices mix really well. It’s pretty easy to make vodka and whiskey drinks with it, and rum drinks that we like. But we haven’t perfected what the perfect complement is, because we’re still working with the final taste profile. We haven’t finalized the exact formulation, and we won’t for another sixty days, because we’re making these subtle changes.
(images via Rambler)