Amherst Brewing Company -- The History of ABC
Amherst Brewing Company -- The History of ABC

The following is a brief history of not only the ABC, but a little background on how the microbreweries and brewpubs we all enjoy today came about. The ABC was incorporated in 1997, the culmination of a dream of the principal owner, John Korpita. Starting out as a homebrewer in 1972, the first batches he “brewed” were more of the science experiment variety and with the limited and somewhat primitive ingredients available at the time, were more akin to wine than beer. With the passage of a law by President Jimmy Carter, homebrewing was legalized in 1978. Homebrew shops started to appear and as ingredients became more readily available, the beginning of what was to become the homebrewing industry we see today was born. Classes and seminars on brewing beer added to the increasing information becoming available, taking homebrewing to a new level. It was at one of these classes in 1979 that John learned the proper steps to brewing and creating beer recipes. No more exploding bottles and popping corks! Slowly building up to brewing almost 50 batches of beer a year, John realized that this hobby could potentially be finagled into a career. Many of the original homebrewers went on to start the mirobrewing industry, becoming suppliers, hop growers, and microbrewery and brewpub owners.

John continued to brew beer mostly for fun and consumption, winning numerous medals at the local Franklin County Fair in Greenfield and a second place in the Great American Homebrewing Competition in Colorado in 1988 for his Honey Pilsner recipe. Developing recipes and brewing increasingly better beer led to John being featured in a Boston Globe article on the increasing popularity of homebrewing and the start of the micobrewing industry on the East Coast. The West Coast had already seen the resurgence of microbreweries, having the advantage of being in the midst of what was to become the hop-growing region of the US, Washington, and Oregon states.

Still desiring to get out of the woodworking industry and pursue a career in the brewing industry, John researched brewing equipment, brewing supplies, and how to start a business and write a business plan. Luck would have it that an opportunity to get involved with a brewpub startup in Brattleboro, Vermont came his way in 1990, when a friend suggested his name to an entrepreneur who was in the construction phase of his plans to open the Windham Brewery and Latchis Grille. The microbrewing industry was taking off at this time, with this to be only the second brewpub in Vermont and about the sixth in the New England states. It was also an opportunity for John to experience commercial construction and building a brewery from scratch, skills that would come in handy only seven years later.

The Windham Brewery opened its doors in 1991 and John took his homebrewing experience to the next level, using some of the recipes he had developed as a homebrewer and then brewing them on a larger scale. About this time, the microbrewing industry exploded on the East Coast and many of the breweries, whose creations we enjoy today, opened their doors for the first time. Some are now gone, like Catamount Brewery from Vermont, but most, like Berkshire Brewery and Boston Beer Company, are still in business. When Gary and Chris from BBC were trying to line up investors and funding, they came to John and asked if he would brew a “test” batch for them at Windham Brewery. In 1993, with the owner’s permission, they got together and brewed the first batch of Steel Rail Pale Ale. In 1994, John left the Windham Brewery and went to work for a brief time at the Northampton Brewery. Still wanting to open a brewery or pub in the Amherst area, he left Northampton by the end of 1994 and went back to woodworking, homebrewing, and planning.

In 1996, John saw an article about the former First National Bank building in Amherst being sold and the owner looking for prospective businesses interested in the location. Working with Greg Noonan, then owner of the Vermont Pub & Brewery, and a brewing acquaintance from the early homebrewing years, John was able to develop the final business plan for ABC. Together with Greg’s restaurant experience, a handful of friends and relatives as investors, the ABC was born in 1997.

Construction began in February of 1997, with the help of a few friends. Quickly realizing that trying to renovate a bank into a restaurant was going to require some professional help, more contractors were hired and the formidable task of knocking down 20” concrete walls and tearing out miles of wiring began. At one point there was a small bulldozer working in what is now the ABC kitchen, dragging out concrete blocks and bank vault doors. The kitchen walk-in was converted from one of the bank vaults to a refrigerator and the other vault changed into the malt storage room, alias “The Malt Vault”, visible at the back of the main dining room. Some of the old vault door decorations can be seen on the walls of the dining room. While the construction phase moved forward, Greg and John plowed through the Amherst permit process. As hard as it was to turn a bank into a brewpub, it was equally as hard to convince the townspeople that a brewery was a good idea for the center of their town. There were no full liquor licenses available in Amherst at the time, so they had to petition for special legislation to be passed in order for them to open and sell liquor in addition to the ABC beers being developed by John. Construction continued until the ABC opened its doors on July 30th, 1997, only a short six months after knocking down the first wall; a tribute to the hard work and dedication of friends, relatives, investors and contractors, with the help of many cases of BBC beer and Antonio’s pizza to end most of the workdays.

Since opening, the ABC has gone through many changes, including menu changes, personnel changes, and additions to the original bar and dining area. Finding it nearly impossible to brew beer and run an increasingly growing business at the same time, John eventually had to hire a brewer and dedicate his time to running ABC. Still overseeing the brewery operations and involved with recipe development, nearly all of the brews enjoyed at the ABC came from recipes either developed by John as a homebrewer or utilizing his many years of experience in the brewing industry.

In 2002, ABC underwent the first of three expansions of the business with the addition of the “Upstairs at ABC”. Originally about half its current size and with a capacity of only 60 people, the upstairs was again expanded to the current floor plan and occupancy of 120 people in 2004. In 2009 the downstairs bar and dining area experienced its first expansion, taking over the space formerly occupied by a record store and bringing the capacity from 180 up to 215, including the patio. The brewery itself was modified in 2005, moving the position of the three wood-clad fermenters and adding four more conditioning tanks to an expanded bright beer cellar, bringing the total number of serving and conditioning tanks to the current number of seventeen.

Our most recent (and final!) move was in August of 2011 to 10 University Drive, the location of the former Gold’s Gym. This is the largest project ABC has undertaken in its history, as we renovated the entire building, which occupies 20,000 square feet. One important draw to this location was the large front parking lot, which is free to customers. No longer will you have to struggle in downtown Amherst for a space, using up your precious lunch hour, or have to feed the meter just to run in for a growler on your way home! The new venue also offers ample space and new opportunities for even larger social, family, and work events. The new event room will give our bands an expansive, attractive performance area, plus more seating for guests. And then, of course, there is the new bar, which will no doubt be the hub of activity. At nearly 100 feet long, it can seat up to 50 people comfortably. Its glowing copper top with leaf pattern and African Sapele wood front molding give the room a warm, inviting feel. 

Continously adapting and changing in order to provide the finest  beer, food, service, and atmosphere for our customers, the Amherst Brewing Company is proud of all we have accomplished and thank you, our customers, who continue to inspire us to do so.

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