Beer people are a devoted bunch. We stand in long lines in the heat of the day to secure 750 milliliters of twice-fermented squash-and-beet saison. We wrap cases worth of rare ale in Depends undergarments, stuff them in a box and ship it to a stranger 12 states away with no security except the bonds of brew-therhood. So it seems well within the realm of possibility that all of us are down to jump in our hoppy jalopies and make a 50-to-90 mile round-trip pilgrimage to AB Beer & Wine, the Royse City bottle shop that boasts one of the most immaculately curated selections of craft beer in North Texas.
Harry Singh opened AB's original location on Garland Road in 2008, where he stocked as many beers as he could procure. This was no easy feat in the lean years before the TABC loosened up and microbrewery distribution networks, but Singh tasted success — so much that he sold his original store and moved AB into a bigger retail space in Rockwall in 2011. (The original location, renamed AD Beer & Wine, still does brisk business.) The shop drew a die-hard clientele, but AB’s remote positioning on TX 276 left Singh looking for a more central, pedestrian-driven location.
Dionysus was clearly in his corner. Royse City, located 10 miles further east on Interstate 30, had become a Texas Main Street City in 2007, receiving state funding to revive its historical downtown to draw tourists. Singh secured a spot on the single square downtown block at the end of 2015 and made the move early this year. After stumbling across their Facebook page getting an eyeful of all the Clown Shoes and Texian bottles for sale, we decided it was time to go the distance and see AB up close.
My family relocated to Rockwall County at the turn of the millennium, and visits home after our college years in Houston admittedly suffered from some country mouse/city mouse biases. After 10 years of urban dwelling, however, it’s kinda nice to feel the nervous city energy of the Metroplex ebb away as you cross Lake Ray Hubbard. Take the exit for Farm-To-Market 548, make two turns and you’re at AB’s doorstep.
As it turns out, AB is not the only surprising historic downtown retailer. Singh’s neighbors include a cupcake bakery, a coffee house whose name contained no overt coffee puns and a mercado autentico selling Topo Chico and churros. A brewery is currently under construction at the end of the block.
Inside AB, you're greeted by the unobtrusive hum of 23 different coolers. It’s meditative — low-ohm oms, if you will — and that’s good, because AB invites you to linger. A small shelf high above the register holds several holy grails of American brewing: There’s a Pliny The Elder up there right next to a Heady Topper.
As befits any temple, AB is clean, well-lit and minimally furnished. Except for a small number of barrel-aged beauties, all the beers are in coolers, each of which has its own number and specific designation in Singh’s arrangement. He memorizes every beer’s location by cooler and shelf number. Belgian lambics are behind door #16, German lagers door #8, and so on. Door #25 is dedicated to all Texas beers and so, appropriately, it is the door to an entire walk-in cooler.
It’s not an understatement to say AB has damn near every beer you could care to drink. Avery, Bruery, Cascade, Dogfish Head, everything, including bottles that approach unicorn status. We found a Jester King Black Metal, bottled September 2015, for $11.99. There were 11 different avant-bombers from Houston’s Buffalo Bayou. For hardcore beer fans, it's easy to drop a lot of money in this bottle shop.
Singh cites Heineken as his gateway to craft beer and is ardent in his evangelization of great beer. He maintains direct relationships with young breweries near (Martin House, Oak Highlands) and far (Buffalo Bayou, Marble Falls’ Save The World) to ensure AB keeps current with fresh Texas products. Free tastings happen every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Singh frequently handles the pours himself.
He puts his money where his mouth is, too: Singh converted at least one macro-guzzling regular by backing his purchase of a Stephens Point sixer with a flat of Busch. The man hasn’t gone back to Busch in nine months, and Singh rates it a true success.
“My only dream,” he says, “is that people will come to my store and be happy to see that, OK, I have every beer, and I can provide them with a quality product that they like — and they don’t have to drive to Dallas.”
AB Beer & Wine, 125 E. Main St., Royse City