Will shunning a Coca-Cola-owned product keep Austin weird?
Though sourced and bottled in Monterrey, Mexico, Topo Chico sparkling mineral water is something of an Austin staple, a sort of non-alcoholic signifier of local taste enjoyed at dive bars and taquerias both north and south of the Colorado river, and on both east and west 6th street. Or at least it was, until Coca-Cola swooped in to acquire the brand. In a press release unveiling their acquisition, the soft drink multinational specifically cited Topo Chico’s popularity in Texas as a reason to “extend its reach while preserving its heritage.”
That move was greeted with ire by many Austinites, especially Tim Murphy, owner of local dive The Grackle. Fed up by the corporate takeover and the subsequent jacking up of Topo Chico’s wholesale price, Murphy engaged in a visually striking act of protest in a video posted to the bar's Instagram, slamming a bottle of the cursed beverage against The Grackle’s outdoor wall and popping open a Jarritos Mineragua instead.
As a bar owner, Murphy’s frustration is perfectly understandable. Some internet rumors suggest Coca-Cola jacked up the wholesale price by as much as $7 per 24 pack, and that’s clearly going to eat into his margins a little bit. But with Murphy telling Munchies that he’s shown Coca-Cola the door every time they tried to get back in his good graces, there’s clearly something more than business metrics driving his defiance.
Maybe in the context of Austin, a place skeptical of anything remotely affiliated with outsiders or corporate backing (SXSW is for out-of-towners, obviously), a turn against Topo is one way for locals to regain some sense of agency when it comes to their changing city. There aren’t many legal avenues for running Facebook’s tech bros out of town, stopping residential high-rises from making rent unaffordable for the city’s creatives, or forcing tourists on a plane back home. But by letting Coca-Cola know in no uncertain terms that they can’t simply buy their way into their hearts and minds, Austinites can feel like gatekeepers of the city’s image when so much of what’s happening around them feels hopelessly beyond their control.
Given that Topo Chico is from Mexico in the first place, it’s a bit ironic (or perhaps fitting, given how many Austinites are transplants) that so many felt such a strong affinity for an imported beverage. And the fact that Mexican Coca-Cola has been bottled at Topo Chico’s plant since the 1920s further blurs the lines on this. It’s no perfect act of protest. Still, if you want to help keep Austin weird and blend in with the locals, your seltzer choice will have a lot more to do with it than ever before.