Soon after walking into the cigar bar Alternative Brews in Amherst, it became clear that for all the flashy signifiers – the extensive craft beer list, the cigar offerings – this is very much a community bar.
Outside, a cozy patio area wraps around one side of the building in an L-shape. This umbrella-covered area is perfectly set up for convivial group conversation.
The main room, which can fit 85 people comfortably, features six televisions, two dart boards and a digital jukebox. Customers seat themselves at the extended bar or at the numerous small tables scattered throughout the room. Some patrons wore business-casual attire, while others were dressed in shorts and T-shirts.
The comfortable, unpretentious ambience that greeted me at the door became more apparent once seated at the bar, behind which is a sign that reads “150, Brews, Blues and Cigars! It doesn’t get any better!” Darryl, co-owner of Alternative Brews, tended bar with a generous and easygoing manner, and was quick to engage in conversation about the place and its seemingly limitless beer options.
I arrived before 7 p.m., early enough for the daily happy hour, which features a highly recommended two-for-one special on draft beers and well drinks. I started things with Alternative Brews’ house beer, Hazelnut Brown, concocted by Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls. Supremely drinkable, its toasty chocolate notes are front and center from first sip to finish, with a sweetness that provides good balance to a hearty beer.
Next up was a Flying Dog creation called “Raging Bitch.” With such a playfully provocative name, you might expect this Belgian-style IPA to feature an overpowering taste – and at 8.3 ABV, it’s certainly a heavy hitter. I’m usually not a big fan of IPAs, but here the bitterness of the hops is offset by the sweetness of the malts, which lingers nicely on the palette.
Because it was a Wednesday night, the crowd was treated to the Blues Pro-Jam, a free weekly event hosted by the blues rock band the Big Sauce Trio from 8 p.m. to midnight. While the music was loud, conversation was not out of the question. The Big Sauce Trio, featuring Shawn Duchscherer on guitar and vocals, Tom Mangione on bass guitar and vocals and Jim Levinthal on drums, is an experienced group with superior blues chops.
The band was joined by several guest musicians, including Ian Kelley on vocals and harmonica. Kelley’s soulful and gritty contribution was welcome in a set of cover songs that included the likes of the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The vital musicianship and relevant energy of the Big Sauce Trio is undeniable, making it a band worth repeated listens.
If you’re looking for excellent beer, a comfortable place to smoke, and quality live music, Alternative Brews is the local bar for you.
Where: 3488 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (446-0424, alternativebrews.com)
Atmosphere: Relaxed, friendly vibe.
Dress code: Casual, “come as you are.”
Special Note: This is a state-licensed cigar bar; not a smoke-free environment. Individual cigar prices range from $3 to $14.
Beer: An extensive list featuring standard domestic/imported, as well as specialty craft brews.
Tech-savvy: Use the bar code scanner on your smartphone to download the regularly updated Alternative Brews beer menu.
Live music: Wednesdays and Fridays.
Hours: Opens at 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Friday; and 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.