In its few years of existence, the Amherst Brewing Company (ABC) has quickly developed into something of a local institution. And for good reason: if you're looking to learn the ABCs of beer, you can't do much better than this bar's consistently marvelous selection of homemade microbrews, rotating seasonal offerings, and guest beers (tasting flights of four or six are available). These include an excellent, hoppy, fruity North Pleasant Pale Ale with notes of apricot, and an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) that tastes of coffee and finishes with a pleasant bitterness. At any given time, one rotating beer is cask-conditioned and poured with a British-style lever. While cask-conditioned beer might taste warm and flat by cold, fizzy American standards, give it a try-it's a connoisseur's treat. In short, the folks here are serious about their beer. The ambitious two-story complex is generally quite pleasant, although it varies from morning to night.
Downstairs, there's a mellow pub atmosphere, with live jazz on weekends. A splendid summer outdoor seating area is set right on the sidewalk in intimate communion with the heart of downtown Amherst. The rooms upstairs, meanwhile, cater to the college party crowd, with pool tables, dartboards, and so on; it hops on school-year weekend nights. As for the food, it's mostly reliable. Mostly. The sweet-potato fries are the hands-down fan favorite-everyone seems to love them-but we just plain disagree: we find them too soggy, sadly lacking the crispiness that makes french fries so satisfying. The good news, though, is that the pleasant, emergent, sweet-savory flavor imparted by the sweet potato lessens the usual need to liven up a plate of french fries with condiments (although the honey mustard sauce works well). The fries also go well with beer. Nachos are average at best, with decent toppings but boring, bag-style tortilla chips. Coleslaw doesn't impress. Jack's Chili is extremely meaty, with large beef-brisket-style chunks, if that's your thing. It's not ours. The rest of the menu, though, meets or exceeds bar-food expectations. Buffalo wings are first-rate, not so spicy but nicely crispy. Most importantly, the Brewburger is a tasty, well- textured delight (and comes rare when requested rare); we recommend the basic bacon cheeseburger rather than the "Cajun burger," which is not particularly spicy, and whose blue cheese (what's Cajun about that?) does not stand up to the meat. Cheddar is better.