The Don of Oregon Beer

As news broke on the Internets yesterday that the great Publican and Horse Brass owner Don Younger had passed, I felt sickened, especially after learning that he had in fact not and was being treated comfortably (but on life support) in the hospital. True, the outlook is grim, but let’s not be printing an obituary for the immortal so soon. [Update: It’s being reported that Don passed at 1230am this morning. The exact minute that I hit publish on this post.]
I am sure other publications both print and online will soon be posting retrospectives, but I find them untimely and distasteful for a man who is still alive and kicking in a hospital bed and who, out of all of us, is the most likely to pull through this mess and afterwards light a pipe, spit in your face for suggesting otherwise, remind you that his pub is still #1, and demand another pint of Rogue’s Younger’s Special Bitter.
I will not claim to know Don Younger all that well, but he has influenced my life irreversibly. When I joined other friends and industry alike at the Horse Brass Sunday night in a vigil for the man, I had a hard time even cracking a smile or laughing at a joke. I will leave his history to those older and more experienced than I, but I would like to share my Don Younger story, as any who has spent any time with the man surely have one. I would also like you to all share yours here in the hope that the positive vibes make it to ‘the last smoker’, who would surely join us for another.

One day when I was just a humble and novice homebrewer and had but an amateur’s ambition to become something greater, I wandered into the Horse Brass on a weekday afternoon for a pint and a sandwich. At the time I was between jobs, did not have any industry experience, and did not know a soul in town, having recently moved back from San Francisco, where I had lived since before my 21st birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I still knew a good deal about beer, but mostly from reading books and following online forums. I knew who Don Younger was but had never seen, let alone met, the man. So as I sat down at a nearly empty Horse Brass bar around noon I was expecting nothing but my own company. I had my headphones on and my iPod blaring and was expecting a lunch to myself in an otherwise nearly empty bar. No sooner did I lay my book down than did I notice the man, the Don himself, sitting on the opposite end of the bar from me. He was unmistakable with his long gray curly hair and weathered but jovial features. Perhaps noticing me noticing him, he almost immediately got up from his usual spot and calmly walked around the bar and took a seat in the empty barstool next to me. Now there was no one else around sitting anywhere near us, so with my headphones blaring in my ear I slowly pulled them out, expecting to hear Don demanding to know why a newbie such as myself was in his bar listening to some newfangled pop music instead of smoking a pipe and conversing with the regulars. I was clearly out of place and had no business being there, I thought to myself. As I took my earbuds out Don greeted me and asked what I was doing there. As I struggled to come up with a good answer, I stuttered out that I was simply there for lunch. Don responded with something akin to, ‘You’re not here for food, you’re here for beer’. At the time I was an aspiring professional brewer and dreamed of starting my own place or at least working in the industry, and Don instinctively knew this. To this day I almost question my recollection of the events that Don picked me out of the bar somehow knowing my blossoming passion for craft beer and that I had a dream to do something in the field. Sitting there talking with Don, he started immediately sharing stories of the Widmer brothers when they worked in the back of some Asian restaurant and homebrewed a German-style wheat beer that he recommended them to leave unfiltered. That may have been great advice, but was it better than the story he told about Dwayne owner of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, who had a dream but no cash, so Don wrote him a check on the spot? 30 or so minutes in, Don took a second to introduce himself, not as a pioneer of craft beer or as owner of Horse Brass, but simply as Don Younger, as he held out his hand I shook it and simply responded ‘yes, I know’ and he nodded knowingly ‘I thought so’ and proceeded to order us another round. I had plans that day, a job interview in fact, but what fool would turn down drinks with a legend? As I sat there sharing Imperial Pint after whisky, and another beer after that, I was regaled with stories that I wish I could remember all of, each more interesting and enlightening than the last. It was like I had climbed the highest mountain in Tibet and found the Kung-Fu master in Shangri-La. In the end I left the Horse Brass in the early evening stumbling drunk but learning one important lesson: if you believe in something, then put your money where your mouth is, risk it all, and the rewards, the money, and whatever else you need will come to you. If not, and it does not work out, then either it was not meant to be, or if you’re really passionate then rise and rise again. Here is to you Don, and I hope you do the same.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em and share your Don Younger story with us.

33 Beers on Don Younger:
http://www.33beers.com/999-Beers/beer-reviews/394-imperial-youngers-special-bitter-horse-brass-25th-anniversary/

Great Article on Don Younger from Imbibe Magazine:

http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Brass-Tacks-Don-Younger

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion

  • Amy
    Amy
    Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:49 AM

    As much as some like to think & others try to make us think- women are not all that complicated. Many of us understand that, in time, our standards & expectations in a partner can be flexible. What do women want? After some consideration (aw hell- beers) I’ve come up with a few simple needs that I think many will agree with. We want a man/ partner who has:

    confidence
    a steady income (owns business a plus)
    a car
    a sense of humor
    compliments
    a full head of hair

    WOW! I actually know this guy! :

    He told me my boyfriend was a “piece of shit” & that I should get with him instead. Confidence-check. Sense of humor-check.

    This guy owns the bar he propositioned me in. Steady income-check. (bonus points for ownership)

    He told me I was “fuckin’ hot!”. Nearing 40- I’ll take it! Compliments-check

    He drove off in a Rolls. Car-check.

    AND has the hair of Chris Cornell in the early 90’s-check!

    This man is no other than- Don Younger, publican, most eligible bachelor in Portland.

    This life changing day (on my drive to work) I saw a bumper sticker that read “Live like a lion”. Considering that mane of hair- who wouldn’t think of “the Don”? Who among us has lived like a lion more than Don Younger? Cautiously overseeing his pride with vigilance, daring the masses to encroach. Geez, that man could smoke a lot of cigs! And F.U. to anyone who can’t comply. The Youngster has forever inspired our world & generations to come with his gifts bestowed upon the NW craft beer industry. The mere fact that I can fill a growler because of Don is not lost on me. So let’s all have a Macallans 12 right now, in his honor. Cheers!

    Hear ya there! My experience precedes…

    • Samurai Artist
      Samurai Artist
      Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:52 AM

      Thanks Amy,
      I was hoping you would post that.

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous
        Mon Jan 31, 2011 3:36 PM

        Damn, everyone who has ever lifted a pint in Oregon is pulling for that man. Considering what a high profile he has in this community, it is amazing that I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about the guy. C’mon Don. Hang in there.

        • Kyle
          Kyle
          Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:16 PM

          I remember meeting Mr. Don Younger for the first time. I was new to Portland, obsessed with brewing, and looking for a way to get my foot into the industry. I had nothing under my belt except a few science classes and library of Homebrewing knowledge. I was lucky enough to grab a job slanging beer at Belmont Station when it was still on Belmont conveniently right next to the Horse Brass. I had no idea that Don was a part owner of my place of employment and beyond seeing him at the Brass I had never talked to him. About my third week of employment I walked into the back offices for one reason or another and there was Don Younger talking to Joy (the owner). He politely introduced him self, as if I didn’t know, and I stammered off a introduction. That was it… a short and sweet introduction. Of course he won’t remember, why would he it was just a simple introduction, but he’s Don Younger an icon and advocate.

          Cheers,

          Kyle Larsen

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous
            Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:08 PM

            Jay Brooks reporting this morning on his blog that Don passed at 3AM. Hope that’s not true.

            • ElGordo
              ElGordo
              Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:56 PM

              Don passed around 12:30 (PST) this morning.

              http://twitter.com/#!/lompocbeer

              • Andrew Self
                Andrew Self
                Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:01 PM

                At FredFest in 2009, not long after the smoking ban went into effect, I saw Don Younger standing in the middle of the smoke cloud from the BBQ. As the wind shifted he’d change where he was standing to stay in the smoke. The guy was indiscriminate about the smoke that he loved.

                • ElGordo
                  ElGordo
                  Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:22 PM

                  I got to know Don while working at Belmont Station in 2003. Sometimes he’d call before he’d gotten his steam up for the day and break out into a coughing spell. He’d always call back a few minutes later to let me know that he was OK, and then carry on about an issue of the day in the beer industry. Mornings were often rough for someone who lived an active social life, but Don was always up and ready to get to the day’s business, no matter what he was up to the night before.

                  When I was getting set to move to North Carolina that summer to go to grad school, Don sat me down at the bar, bought me a measure of Macallan 12 (at 8:30am), and started telling me about all of his connections in NC. He pulled out a few business cards and told me to get in touch with these folks. Surely enough, as soon as I met people (among them, a beer distributor and the publishers of All About Beer magazine) and told them that Don Younger told me to contact them, they were as welcoming as could be, and helped me settle into the wonderful beer community in that part of the world. It goes to show that Don was such a great host and judge of character that anyone who knew him would take his word about anyone he sent their way. That’s the way Don did business and lived life – by bringing together the right kind of people.

                  • ericmsteen
                    ericmsteen
                    Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:46 PM

                    I never knew Don, but Horse Brass Pub and Belmont Station were a part of my “Bermuda Triangle” when I lived in Portland. Horse Brass is the best pub I have ever been to, and when I visit Portland it is usually the first place I go when I get off the plane (no joke).

                    I don’t have a career in the industry exactly, but much of what I do in my profession involves considering beer as an agent for social change. Much of my time brainstorming, socializing, and even some of my conclusions about the social aspects of pubs came about because of Don Younger’s Horse Brass Pub. He has inspired me immensely, albeit indirectly, and I am very thankful that he shared his passion and acted on his entrepreneurial impulse.

                    • JohnM.
                      JohnM.
                      Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:07 PM

                      I can’t say I was ever a close friend of Don’s either, but I still remember the first time I ever met him.

                      I had just moved back to California/Sacramento from Memphis in 89, and was just getting interested in craft beer back in the early 90’s. I had purchased a subscription to the Celebrator, and as luck would have it, they had just done a great expose/background story of Don. I say as luck would have it, as I was going up to Portland the next month, and was still in the process of planning various beer related excursions and events. Of course back in those days there was no Beer Advocate or Ratebeer, and in fact back then I was damned happy to have a resource like the Celebrator to get around town and find different beer “hot spots.”

                      Needless to say, after reading the article about Don, I focused the beer aspect of my trip on the Horsebrass and (hopefully) meeting Don. The Celebrator article made him out to be almost a deity, so I wasn’t sure he’d have time to see the likes of me. I was also hoping that maybe I could pay some sort of set fee, and perhaps someone at the HorseBrass would give me a tour of the place (I really had no idea what to expect), maybe introduce me to Don, and maybe let me get a sampler tray from the (legendary) beer selection there. I’d tried calling to set something up, but was told there really was no way to do what I wanted, but why didn’t I just come by? So that’s what I did.

                      When I arrived, the bartender told me she’d mentioned my call to Don, and so I could just go on over and introduce myself (back in those days, it seemed as if Don lived over on the right side of the bar with his closest cronies, swapping stories, drinking ale, and smoking like fiends). So once again, that’s what I did.

                      I remember right off Don told me in no uncertain terms that they didn’t offer samplers at the Horsebrass, so I couldn’t buy a sampler tray, and so I needed to get that out of my head right then and there. Then he smiled at me and said, however…. I could try a glass of anything I wanted that was on tap, that he’d happily tell me about any of the beers they had available, and that there would be no charge for anything. I still remember just looking at him with my mouth slung open, I was so surprised by his generousity to a complete stranger. It’s a moment I’ll always remember…

                      Here’s to you Don. Wherever you are now, may the cask younger special bitter always be flowing.

                      • Austin
                        Austin
                        Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:11 PM

                        I remember Don as the man watching his bar on nearly every occasion I visited the Horse Brass. Most notably, I remember Don’s toast to the late Michael Jackson. I remember him as on of the most honest and amicable people in Portland history. Rest in peace, Don Younger. Never turn down a wager made at a bar.

                        • Jeremie Landers
                          Jeremie Landers
                          Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:35 PM

                          Memories of The Don easily flood in, and I have quite a few to share.

                          I’ll remember him being there to greet the golfers and volunteers the mornings when the Rogue bus took people to the Sasquatch BrewAm.

                          I’ll remember when Jenn and I and Yvette and Don shared stools and beers together (whiskey for Don though) in an empty Bull and Bush in Denver, Colorado during the GABF. I’ll also remember him pulling up to the Falling Rock Tap House in a horse drawn carriage, with a much younger ladyfriend, to a round of applause like royalty visiting from distant lands (which really, he was).

                          I’ll certainly remember talking to him various times about the pub business, with him both sober and not, and his explanation of how you’ll define your business to the public, but they will change it to meet their desires; the truest form of giving them what they want.

                          The man was wise, kind, and generous with his time and knowledge. I mark myself fortunate to be one of those lucky people on the receiving end of a Don litany, with him telling me that I didn’t know a f—ing thing. You’re right Don; once we stop thinking we’ve got it all figured out, then we’re ready to start learning.

                          He made me realize and understand that it really wasn’t about the beer; it was about the beer. Rest in peace my friend.

                          • Tim Ensign
                            Tim Ensign
                            Mon Jan 31, 2011 8:15 PM

                            My first memory of this beer legend was about 10 years ago after just moving to Portland, my wife and myself go into the Horse Brass for the first time sit at the bar (right next to Don before i even knew who he was) i order a IPA and Jana orders an Arrogant Bastard and Don says i just love a girl who drinks Arrogant …Bastard! A great 2 hour conversation about of course BEER was followed.

                            • Justin
                              Justin
                              Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:07 PM

                              I was Don’s wing-man once. I was sitting at the bar in the Horse Brass reading my book while enjoying a nice pint, and Don came over and tapped me on the shoulder. Now let me say, I was new to Portland and the beer scene. So when Don came over and started talking to me, I felt rather validated here in the beer community. Well Don’s just talking away, and I realize I can only understand every fifth of sixth word he is saying. Then Don just stops talking and is staring at me. My mind is racing to figure out what we were talking about, when Don looks at me and says, “Well are you going to introduce me to your blonde friend?” I realize that there is a blonde woman sitting next to me at the bar (who I didn’t know). Not knowing what else to do, I lean over to the woman and say, “Excuse me Miss, this is Don Younger.” She looks up and is a little taken back by Don’s appearance, ten minutes later their sitting together talking and laughing. That man had style.

                              • Doug S.
                                Doug S.
                                Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:49 PM

                                In May of 2008, my wife and I attended the Rogue Brewer’s Memorial Ale Fest in Newport. After sampling a not insignificant number of beers at the festival, we made our way back across the bridge to the Rogue Ales Public House. We sat down at the bar, and there was Don Younger sitting on a stool next to us by himself, enjoying a pint (wearing a Rogue Brew Dog T-shirt). We introduced ourselves to him, and he returned the favor (as if we didn’t know who he was already). I asked him what he was drinking, and he said, “doesn’t matter.” That comment struck up a conversation, and before I knew it, two hours had passed. I walked away pondering one of the many things he had said to me (and that he has said to so many others): “It’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer.”

                                Those two hours were truly amazing. To be able to speak at length with a man who was so instrumental in the development of the craft beer scene as we know it was priceless, and I feel so fortunate to have had that encounter with “The Don.” Cheers, Don! You will be missed!

                                • Duke
                                  Duke
                                  Tue Feb 1, 2011 4:57 AM

                                  Nearly 20 years ago, I made my first trip to Portland. My friend James, who had recently moved here with his new bride, picked me up at the airport after a late evening flight he whisked me straight away to The Horse Brass Pub. Don was working the bar that night and he poured us a couple of pints and we sat down for several hours of conversation, several rounds of darts, and naturally several more pints.

                                  I came of age in a small southern Arizona town and my idea of good beer was Tecate, Corona and Pacifico. My horizons were greatly expanded that night by the pints of wonderful ales that Don poured us that night. I knew then and there that Portland was someplace I wanted to live someday. I got that chance seven years later. The Horse Brass was a place I went fairly regularly, mostly it was and is, one of the best Pubs in Portland, but mainly because I knew you would likely find Don there, and he alone often made the trip worthwhile.

                                  I haven’t been back in the last couple of years, mostly because we moved across the river, bought a house and had a son, and now I wished I had gone back one last time before Don was gone.

                                  He will be greatly missed by a great many people. I know many people in Portland, around the country, and around the world have raised a pint and lit a smoke (he loved to smoke) to Don in the last 24 hours from reading the Twitter stream about him. That seems a fitting and appropriate.

                                  Cheers Don.

                                  • Hoptimist
                                    Hoptimist
                                    Tue Feb 1, 2011 8:18 PM

                                    I’d been in the Horse Brass many times and seen Don there but only exchanged a smile or a knowing glance about the liquid goodness that we held in our hands. Then I took my wife there on her birthday a few years back and we ended up having a nice conversation with Don there at the bar. Much talk of beer of course, but he also tried to convince my wife that she would be better off with him than with me. I’ll never forget what he said as we were ready to leave but she needed to use the bathroom first. He said, “Hurry up, the camera’s almost out of film!” Cheers Don.

                                    • Tom May
                                      Tom May
                                      Wed Feb 2, 2011 6:30 AM

                                      Don Younger, one of my very best friends;

                                      Don was the reason I eventually moved to Oregon.
                                      I was (am) a folksinger who he booked in April of 1982 to play at the Brass, and he offered to put me up too (his house was conveniently located at the time about 100 yards away) At that time, I lived in St. Louis….and for the next 16 years I would reside in Nebraska, always play at least 3-4 times a year at the Brass, and Don always insisting I stay with him. He put up with some of my cranky girlfriends and
                                      late night escapades with tolerance and twinkle in his eye, until I moved out this way in 96.

                                      I have spent countless hours with Don in the afternoons, drinking until I could no longer trust myself to get home. We disagreed about politics, argued about
                                      folks we knew, and always got along famously.
                                      We would laugh about how strange each of our careers/lives had been, and how improbable it was
                                      that we both had survived so well. I wrote a song for the pub in 1987 and recorded it, the best part of that being how happy it made him to hear it and have folks join in when I played it.

                                      We had some memorable adventures revolving around beer (mostly) each one worthy of its own short story on another day. A more colorful companion could not ever be found than Don Younger

                                      This Saturday is the 23rd anniversary of the event he helped found with me, “Winterfolk” , a benefit
                                      for Sisters of the Road Cafe. The first five years took place at the Horse Brass, until it moved to the Aladdin Theatre. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been raised because he believed in an event that helps folks help themselves.

                                      He had an impeccable eye for the ladies, even though he was a life long bachelor. He was one of the kindest men I have ever known, and one of the bravest, in how he lived his life fearlessly. He was one of the few folks who knew he was going to be dead a lot longer than he was going to be alive, and he made the most of his time here.

                                      The world is poorer today without Don Younger in it; but we were all so fortunate to have the pleasure of his company while he was with us.

                                      Tom May