Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Don Younger, July 11 1941- January 31 2011
Portland lost one of it's great citizens this week with the passing of Don Younger. He was the founder and longtime owner of our favorite local pub The Horse Brass. You might think it is strange to lament the loss of a publican in a town like Portland that is renowned for great pubs and great beer, but the truth is Portland wouldn't be all of those things if it weren't for Don Younger. He is hugely responsible for the Portland becoming Beervana. He was one of the first people in Oregon to support and promote the craft beer movement. The Widmer Brothers credit him with helping them get their brewery started and giving them the early support that helped get their beer on the map. He created Oregon Craft Beer Month and was a leading authority on all things beer.
The first time I met him was pretty intimidating. He was a tall man despite his hunchback, and he had long white hair and a shaggy beard. I was in his smoke filled office, across the street from the pub, to ask that he keep our client Henry Weinhard's beer on tap. Miller had bought the brand when Stroh's went out of business, but they did not want to buy and maintain the old brewery in the Pearl District. People in Portland were super pissed off that the brewery was closing and they blamed Miller. My point was that Miller had saved the brand and even though it was not being brewed here anymore, they were still making it in the Pacific Northwest up at the old Olympia Brewery. I knew it would be a hard sell and things got off to a bad start when Don opened the conversation with, "so you are the assholes that closed the brewery." He was having none of our appeal and told us he would never carry Henry's as long as it was brewed outside Oregon. I have to say, I left in total agreement with him. I was as sad as anyone that the brewery was closing, but I was also bummed that we would no longer be selling Henry's in his hugely influential pub.
The next time I encountered Don Younger was on a very busy Friday night as he sat at the end of his bar having a beer. The smoking ban had just been initiated and I knew he had been adamantly against it. He was a heavy smoker, and he had lobbied hard to stop the measure, going as far as saying it would hurt his business. I know I probably shouldn't have incited him, but I couldn't help myself. I made a quip about how full the bar was and that the smoking ban may actually be helping business. For the second time in my life, he growled at me, and told me to "f--- off." I wear it as a badge of honor.
He was a great man and he will be missed. If you are so inclined, you should visit The Horse Brass on SE Belmont, order a pint of Rouge Brewing's Younger's Special Bitter (named after his late brother) and toast one of the men that made us the beer capitol of the U.S.