The pandemic was a hindrance to many businesses last year, but that didn’t stop Katie Beal Brown from changing the beverage game. In recent years, seltzers, like Truly and White Claw, have risen in popularity, so Brown decided to jump in and create her own brand based on her love of West Texas and the cocktail that originated there. In April 2020, Brown, an SMU graduate, launched Lone River Ranch Water, a canned version of the cocktail.
Brown grew up in West Texas, where her family tree spans over 100 years. She hails from the Midland area and her family’s ranch is located between Fort Davis and Alpine. During her travels, Brown would introduce ranch water, a cocktail made with tequila, lime juice and sparkling water, to friends she would meet explaining the folklore behind it.
“There's a legend in West Texas that it was originally concocted by a rancher who, after drinking it, followed miles of Texas stars until he was found asleep under a piñon tree,” Brown says. “And when I say miles of Texas stars, he actually walked from Fort Davis to Marathon which is about 50 miles. I’ve always really loved that legend. It made me think of my grandfather and our ranch. We made that trek to Marathon lots of times, obviously not by foot. It's just such a scenic, beautiful area of Texas.”
Companies like Topo Chico and Dos Equis have launched their own variations of ranch water, but Brown’s is the first and so far only one with roots in West Texas. They come in four different flavors; original, spicy, grapefruit and prickly pear.
Since entering the market, Lone River has steadily increased market share.
As a native of Texas, she may be biased in terms of her preferences, but she is happy to see other key players following suit.
“I think what's interesting, even beyond ranch water that has started to emerge, is this more tequila and agave- inspired sector of hard seltzer,” Brown says. “And I think that's something that people are really interested in, getting a little bit more complexity of flavor, versus just what has existed to date.”
The pandemic posed many complications before Lone River Ranch Water could officially hit the shelves. Brown and crew’s TABC permit was delayed because the office was closed. Their supply chain was disrupted and they weren’t certain if they’d be able to put all of their employees on their payroll.
Fortunately, they were able to receive their permit three days before their product was shipped. A year after its launch, Lone River Ranch Water is sold in 21 different stores, including Central Market, Kroger and Total Wine.
As a woman in the liquor industry, Brown admits that there are times where she’s entered meetings feeling underestimated, which has led her to “overprepare” in order to be taken seriously by her male counterparts. Thankfully, she says her team has always taken her seriously and supported her vision.
“There are a lot of times when I’ve walked into a room or a Zoom meeting, and I am the only female there,” Brown says. “I think I've been very fortunate in that all of our partners have always really supported me ... I haven't had a lot of the negative experiences that I think some women do have in the industry, and I think it's because I've been so fortunate in the support of all of our partners.”
Throughout 2021, Lone River has increased its market share to 3.8% in Texas, outpacing all other ranch water and agave seltzers in the state. After launching a business during a time of economic uncertainty, Brown hopes to inspire people to keep creating and keep trying, regardless of any hurdles that pop up in the process.
“I think as a small business and an entrepreneur, you fail so many times before you succeed,” Brown says. “In a time when a lot of things were uncertain, and a lot of people didn't know what was going to happen, we felt that just as much as anyone… To be in the position that we're in, I hope it gives a lot of other people hope in that you can follow a dream.”