What do canned cocktails and fly fishing have in common? If you’re renowned fly-fishing guide, JT Van Zandt, David Mangum, or Rob Fordyce – apparently, a lot.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve most likely been hip to the boom that the canned alcoholic beverage marketplace has seen over the course of the last half-decade. Perhaps starting with the surge in popularity of craft beer that began in the late 2010s, it wasn’t long before the booze market was flooded with a myriad of different concoctions that came in a can. With most attempts falling to the wayside, there were a few canned libations that survived and thrived; such as the infamous fruity seltzer drink that made a splash amongst beer and non-beer drinkers alike. As the torrent of malt and high-ABV drinks persisted, more creations came out of the woodwork, bringing forth the early days of canned “Ranch Waters”.
For those who’ve never visited the great state of Texas, or just don’t have an appetite for tequila, Ranch Water is A cocktail consisting of Lime, 100% Blue Agave Tequila, and Carbonated (preferably mineral) water. For as simple as it is, a well-made Ranch Water makes one hell of a sweet treat for a warm summer evening, but is also, shockingly, easy to screw up (with sub-par ingredients and improper proportions).
As these canned “ranch waters” steadily grew in popularity, so did the number of different beverage companies attempting to mix their own version, slap a label on it, and get it on the shelves of your local liquor store. However, as these drinks began to be catered more and more towards the masses, those who had a true taste for tequila began to take issue with the way these so-called, “ranch waters” were being manufactured and advertised. Oftentimes, the can would read “real Tequila”, even though it’s not 100% Blue Agave Tequila. When you’re not using the real deal, this means distributors didn’t can it in Mexico so that they could cut the mixture before canning in the states.
In reference to the Ranch Water recipe above, the only ingredients that need to be present in one of these cans are the three key ingredients: Lime Juice, 100% Blue Agave Tequila, and Sparkling Mineral water. So, when additives such as Malt Liquor, added sugar, and other preservatives began popping up on the ingredient labels of some of these self-proclaimed, “ranch water” canned beverages, some folks decided to take up arms.
This is where Epic Western was born.
The Founding of Epic Western
Epic Western’s true birthplace can be traced back to where most good things originate: the back of a tailgate. During a sweltering September Texas dove hunt, now co-founder and CEO, Adam Love, took it upon himself to keep his company hydrated with some hand-made, Ranch Waters including some of the finest 100% Blue Agave Tequila in his possession. After dishing out the first round of cocktails, Adam found himself busier than a bartender on Thanksgiving eve, with a line of thirsty cohorts demanding more of what he was pouring. “By the time the hunt was over, I hadn’t even had a chance to shoulder my gun because I was so busy making drinks“, recalled Adam. “I remember thinking, how I wished there was a way to take the same cocktails I was making and pre-package it, without losing the flavor.” It was then, inspiration struck.
However, even with this vision so clear, it was still just out of reach. There were quite a few logistics to be figured out long before a canned cocktail that lived up to Adam and his crew’s standards could be moved from mind to mold. As the months rolled by, more and more “ranch water” canned beverages hit the market. Adam, excited by the idea that mirrored his own, dedicated himself to trying all of them – only to be left disappointed every time.
It was later in 2019 when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began to rear its ugly head, halting all business on Adam’s end, which at the time was commercial real estate. However, this kick in the shin seemed to finally be enough to get Adam thinking seriously about producing canned Ranch Water made with 100% real Blue Agave Tequila.
“And so I hired a liquor attorney out of Austin. Called her up and asked her: Why is somebody not canning 100% Blue Agave Tequila?
“Well, it’s illegal, She said, The only way you can use 100% Blue Agave Tequila is to can it in the region where the agave plant has grown, and that’s Jalisco, Mexico. She said, “It can’t leave Jalisco unless it’s in its final format, either can or bottle.”
Slightly discouraged, Adam hung up the phone. If he was going to do this, he decided, it had to be with 100% Blue Agave Tequila. It was then, inspiration struck. Adam decided it was time to start making phone calls…Within just a month, Adam, miraculously, had found a distillery and a canning facility down in Jalisco, Mexico.
The following months were occupied by a game of cat and mouse. Finding problems, and then finding solutions. When the first batch of the mixture came back tasting chalky… dehydrated limes were introduced to create an actual lime flavor. When the next batch came back lacking the proper level of carbonation due to heat treatment, EW decided to forgo any and all preservatives and just let the alcohol do its job by deciding to up the ABV. Finally, after months of working on perfecting their recipe, the drink came back and the feedback upon initial sampling was unanimous – “now, THAT is a Ranch Water!”
Now that the product was perfected, it was time to make moves on the business end. After countless hours spent working on mission statements, pillars, and overall branding with other co-founders, Royce Itschner and Dub Sutherland; Adam decided to call upon an old friend, who had just moved from Austin to San Antonio, for some business advice. This friend happened to go by the name of, Roy Seiders, and is best known for founding a company called, “YETI Coolers” (They make some pretty neat coolers – in case you’ve never heard of them).
“I started telling him [About Epic Western] and as a buddy, he said: Hey man, I’d love to help you out. Brand this thing, help you come up with names, design the can, the four-pack, and all the things. [Eventually] Roy started coming to the house, going through the brand deck that we had put together, and it was about two weeks into that it dawned on me that if I was in the fashion industry I’ve got Ralph Lauren sitting on my couch“, recounts Adam.
“[Eventually], I asked Roy if he wanted to get involved and he kind of laughed and said, “Thought you never ask.” So that’s when YETI Capital came in and capitalized us. They took a major risk. We did not even have a product in the United States…”
In January 2021, after months and months of working out supply chain logistics and making sure the product was up to snuff, Epic Western hit the shelves of liquor stores all throughout Texas. In less than a year, EW was being distributed to over 8 states and counting.
“The Genuine Article”: JT Van Zandt’s Proclamation…
Right before YETI Capital had committed to helping us out, Adam was introduced to a friend of a friend, by the name of JT Van Zandt.
For those who may not know who JT Van Zandt is, we would implore you to go and give a good listen to his podcast, “Drifting“, or check out this one-of-a-kind film, “My Old Man“, which explores JT’s pursuits as a fly fisherman and a father, as well as a look into his own personal relationship with his father, famed country artist, Townes Van Zandt. JT is an extremely accomplished fly-fishing guide out of Rockport Texas, who spends most of his days perusing flood tide in search of mean, hungry, Red Fish that will turn a fly into that day’s lunch – however, he won’t tell you that. Most noted for his wisdom and stoicism when JT speaks, people listen.
As the torrent of new canned “ranch water” imitations flooded the market in 2019, JT was bombarded with brand partnership offers, after publically noting that he oftentimes enjoyed a “ranch water” like concoction, which he called, “Bay Water”, after a day on the water. However, JT holding steadfast to his nature, denied these offers, as they just didn’t quite move the needle for him.
Fast forward a year, and Adam and JT make each other’s initial acquaintance. Adam, in describing their first conversation, stated: “We had a phone conversation and became fast friends over the phone. It was one of those situations where I thought how have I not known you forever?“.
It was over a steak dinner that Adam was eventually able to get some product into JT’s hands. “Later that night I got a text from him, said, “Wow, you guys did it. The genuine article is all we have in this life”, Adam recalls.
“And if you know JT or ever listened to any of this podcasts, I mean, he’s not a fly fisherman. He’s a fricking poet. So, I screenshotted that genuine article quote and I sent it to Gorilla Suit, our marketing firm, and since then, that has been our Brand Slogan.
It wasn’t before long that JT had begun talking to his friend, David Mangum, a legendary Tarpon and Redfish Guide out of Florida, who also immediately became interested. Within the next couple of months, both Van Zandt and Mangum both held equity in Epic Western, acting not as “Ambassadors” but as co-owners. Not long after that, legendary guide Rob Fordyce, host of the popular show: “The Sea Hunter“, was committed to Epic Western along with JT, David, and now, Roy Seiders.
If an operation is only as good as the people behind it, we’re comfortable with letting those names alone be a testament to Epic Western’s quality…
So, What’s the Deal with Epic Western?
With the history laid out, the question still remains: “Is Epic Western actually any good?” I mean, sure, anyone can pay for fancy branding and endorsements, but is the drink itself all it’s said to be?
If you want our answer: Yes… and then some. Now, Here’s why. When you pick up a can of anything, it’s always a smart call to give a scan over the ingredients on the back. Sure, we’re all guilty of putting down a couple of energy drinks before an inappropriately early morning on the water, whose contents possess the name’s of chemicals we can’t even pronounce. But, when you’re looking for the post-fishing beverage that’s going to make you the hero of the boat ramp tailgate, it’s worth weighing your options slightly more critically.
Here’s the main factor that we feel makes Epic Western ACTUALLY stand out, both in the taste and feel department.
1. Epic Western uses 100% real, Blue Agave Tequila. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, how much does that actually matter?” The answer is: A lot. When you drink tequila that’s been cut with chemicals such as glycerine, sugar, or other preservatives, it’s not only going to affect the taste, but also how it makes you feel. That wild “post-tequila” hangover that ruins the rest of your week and potentially your reputation around town, is largely impacted by what’s in the tequila. This also goes for brands that don’t even use tequila at all in their “ranch water”. Instead, you’re drinking malt liquor, which is flavored and altered to vaguely resemble tequila. If you’re into that, you may as well just go drink a 40oz of Olde English. It’ll be much cheaper.
Ever hear of the acronym: “KISS”, or, Keep It Simple, Stupid”? Well, there’s something to be said about simple ingredients. When you look at a can of Epic Western, you’re going to see these 4 key ingredients listed: 100% Blue Agave Tequila, Sparkling Water, Lime, and Sea Salt. That’s all there is to it (depending on which flavor, include natural flavors).
We were lucky enough to learn about Epic Western from our friend, James Elledge, who has been helping lead the charge there from its founding, and since trying it, have no plans on ever going back to cheap imitations.
What’s Next for Epic Western?
Keep an eye out for Epic Western’s new series coming in 2023, “The Genuine Article Ambassador Series” telling the tales of JT, David, Rob, and all of the other amazing folks who are working alongside Epic Western. Also, be on the lookout for EW coming to even more states with all new flavors coming in 2023. To see if Epic Western is available in your state, Click HERE to visit their website.
Epic Western is an Alcoholic Beverage. In the United States, it is illegal for any person(s) who is under 21 years of age to purchase or consume Alcoholic beverages. Please enjoy responsibly.
Header Photo Image courtesy of: John Dunaway
This article was published as part of a paid campaign between Flylords LLC and Epic Western. All opinions presented in this article are genuine and solely reflect the opinions of Flylords LLC.