I've tried to look at all the info on this style lately, and man is it a contentious topic! Not just regards what defines the style, but what to "officially" call it!
All sides have made some reasonable arguments, to wit:
- It was "born" in Vermont, so a nod to that fact should be made
- It primarily uses hops from the Pacific Northwest, i.e. Cascadia, so that should be part of its name
- American Brown Ale used to be called "Texas Brown Ale," so any "new" style should lose its regional link as well, so call it "American Black Ale"
- For purposes of the BJCP style designations, it needs a name to aid competition directors with placing it in flights where several subcategories and "lumped" together
What a mess!
I think one thing is clear: it IS a style that's here to stay. Seems its been around since the mid-eighties; the recent explosion of its popularity is no doubt tied to the very healthy craft-brewing culture we are now blessed with.
I think competition-entering brewers should be happy if the style is honored with it's own BJCP sub-style: a slight error in brewing or recipe formulation and you have an American Stout entry!
PS: I live in Savannah, Georgia...I understand "rivalries" -- such as SEC football -- and "regional hostilities" -- Damn Yankee invaders! -- so I'm not surprised to see some "vested interests" and "mild hostility" arise when it comes to naming this beast.
Ain't it a shame we can't just sit down and ply each other with our homebrews and discuss a solution? We could at least catch a good buzz while disagreeing...and who has a problem with a good buzz?