With a storefront on South I-35 since 2003, Travis Heights Beverage World has been in full view of the public, yet it somehow has managed to remain one of Austin’s best kept secrets in the wine and spirits retail arena.
The boutique store was originally born as an extension of the adjacent Whip In, owned by the Topiwala family since1986. After the original convenience store became well-known for its outstanding beer selection, customers started asking for liquor, and when the building next door became available, the family seized the opportunity to expand. Now, as the Whip In continues to evolve and grow, Beverage World is its own independent business headed by Rohit, the younger of the Topiwala brothers.
“It’s always been about having something different,” he says. “We pride in our selection of lesser-known, hard-to-find products. It’s a mixologists’ heaven. We carry a lot of Texas spirits, a wide variety of sake, artisanal liqueurs from Clear Creek Distillery, and many products from the Greenbar Collective, amongst other rarities.”
For the uninitiated, Clear Creek produces extraordinary liqueurs and eaux de vie made in true European tradition from organically-grown fruit in Oregon. Greenbar’s products are perhaps the most eco-friendly in the nation, something that goes hand-in-hand with the philosophy at Beverage World.
One of the most impressive liquor aisles holds a selection of over 100 Scotches and Whiskeys, which in fact led to an employee's hiring. David “Bart” Bartlett used to come in the store as a regular customer, sometimes just perusing the aisle without buying a thing. One day, Topiwala asked, “Bart, do you want a job?” The rest is history.
Need some advice on obscure Scotches? Bart is your man. But really, everyone there is knowledgeable on just about any product in the store. Topiwala and wine guru Eric Pelegrin taste and take notes on almost every product on the shelves, and hold tastings for the public every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 4-8pm with a rotating selection of old favorites, new products, and seasonal sips. Best of all, they deliver advice and friendly service sans the pompous attitude, which is rewarded by a large core of loyal regular customers including myself.
If Pelegrin’s name sounds familiar, you are on the right track. The native of Marseille came to Austin in 1986 and spent 16 years as the chef at Chez Nous. In 2004 he struck out on his own alongside wife Martine with Le Marseillais, an online bistro specializing in traditional French country foods delivered at your doorstep, and were pioneers in the now popular supper club movement.
As a long-time resident of 78704, Pelegrin was a customer at Whip-In since the beginning (“I first went in because I thought it was a pub,” he says) and started shopping at Beverage World as soon as it opened. After working there part-time to complement his catering income, he's been the man in charge of the superb wine selection since 2009, and is responsible for the impressive collection of grower produced Champagnes, arguably the best in town.
What impresses me about the wine selection at Bev World is the variety of appellations represented, mainly from Spain, Italy and France. “We’re a bit Euro-centric,” says Pelegrin chuckling, “but I am learning more about domestics, and especially paying attention to some great new Texas wines. I am starting to take road trips on Sundays to Texas wineries to discover new things to bring.” He is excited about the impending arrival of offerings from Pilot Knob Vineyard, near Bertram, which he believes to be some of the best wines produced in Texas today.
While there are many wine experts at local retailers, what sets Pelegrin apart is his knowledge of food and his ability to pair the perfect wine with whatever you are cooking. When customers come in asking for a wine recommendation, he wants to know more about what they are looking for: Is the wine for a party, a gift, a special occasion, or every night dinner? Are you roasting or poaching that fish? Is your curry Indian or Thai?
Recently, I stopped by to pick something up for my birthday dinner. After a few minutes chatting with Pelegrin, I walked out with a spectacular Besserat de Bellefon NV rosé Champagne for around $45 that was the perfect aperitif with soft cheeses and fruit, and a Chateau Bellevue Sur Vallée, Bergerac Le Vin de Bob 2003, ideal for our grilled rib eye and roasted veggies which set me back a mere $15.99. “We read the customers’ interest and go from there,” says Pelegrin.
Of course, if you are looking for some of the inexpensive or familiar brands, Bev World carries a few of them, but they will happily turn you on to a lesser known label at an affordable price. “We’ll have the Veuve Cliquot,” says Topiwala, “but let us show you something different... around the same price or better.” They also carry a small selection of great quality box wines—yes, box wines—for your picnics and parties. I am partial to the Cellier de Dauphins Côtes du Rhône, which holds 3 liters (that’s four bottles!) of a fruity and peppery Grenache-Syrah blend for around $22. Next time you are in South Austin, stop by Travis Heights Beverage World. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.