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American Porter: An Undersung Classic Awaits Its Re-Revival

In this edition of Jeff Alworth's Style School, we look to the early days of American microbrewing, when attempts to recreate a neglected British style may not have been historically accurate—but they were something altogether new (and delicious).

Jeff Alworth May 3, 2020 - 9 min read

American Porter: An Undersung Classic Awaits Its Re-Revival Primary Image

Change and evolution are the way of things, and whether this is good depends on your point of view. In one way, it is the process of refinement: American beer has come a long way since the pioneering microbrewers were using recycled dairy equipment in the 1980s. In another way, however, it is the process of selection: The new and shiny replaces the old and stodgy. This process has the unfortunate habit of setting aside that which fashion no longer favors, but which is good and worth preserving.

I speak, now, about American porters.

In the 1980s, these inky pints were broadly available. Drinkers who visited brewpubs would have found a pale ale for sure, probably something very light—a blonde or golden, for the lager drinkers—likely an amber or red ale, and maybe a brown ale. And almost certainly a porter or stout. Indeed, in the first Great American Beer Festival where style categories were judged (1987), porter was one of just six ale styles included. Pale ale, in fact, wouldn’t debut for another year.

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