The beer world pays tribute to Don Younger

On Sunday, February 13th at 3:00 p.m. beer lovers across the northwest and around the world took pause and saluted Don Younger with a toast. At Don’s venerable Horse Brass Pub in Portland, a huge crowd gathered and filled not only the pub, but a large tent temporarily constructed in the parking lot as well. You see, Don Younger recently passed away and was a man with no shortage of friends and admirers.

At or around 3:00 p.m. Sunday, Twitter was aflutter with #DonYounger posts as people from near and far extended their thanks and appreciation for all that Don gave the world of craft beer. The Washington Beer Blog hoisted pints from bar stools in Rancho Mirage, California—mine a pint of Green Flash West Coast IPA, hers a pint of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin—and for a moment we felt like we were with our friends in Portland.

It’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer

When he bought the Horse Brass Pub in 1976, Don probably had no idea he would become a legend. Back then, most taverns had only one beer on tap and one neon sign in the window. Most metropolitan areas would have two or three regular brands. Beer drinkers typically favored one brand over the other and that determined where they drank. Don Younger’s Horse Brass Pub broke that mold, serving Watney’s Red Barrel, Guinness, and whatever else Don could get his hands on.

A picture from Sunday's event at the Horse Brass. Left to right - John Harris of Full Sail Brewing, Lisa Morrison (@Beer_Goddess), a cardboard Don Younger, and Drew Cluley of Pike Brewing.

Sure, the Horse Brass still served Blitz (Don Younger was a Blitz man), but back in the 1970s what set it apart from damn near every other tavern around was Don’s commitment to English and other imported beers. When the craft beer revolution began in the 1980s, the Horse Brass was positioned perfectly: they had lots of taps and a crew of regulars who were already accustomed to trying different beers. Don was frequently willing to let his pub and its patrons be used as a test bed for new beers and new breweries.

I last visited the Horse Brass pub about five years ago. Way too long. The place hadn’t changed and I’m quite certain it hasn’t changed since. It is a classic, just like Don. To say that Don Younger ran hard and lived hard might be an understatement. That said, it is also an understatement to say that he lived well and that his life had meaning.

Don was a passionate supporter of craft beer even before there was craft beer. The fact that Rogue named a beer after him (Younger’s Special Bitter) is not surprising. He deserves whatever accolades the craft beer world bestows apon him. You could argue that he was an inventor: he  invented that thing which we now refer to as a good beer bar.

If there is a Pantheon of Craft Beer, that’s where Don Younger now resides—his name immortally etched on a marble pillar in that sacred and hallowed hall, even if only in my imagination. Again, cheers to Don Younger. Thank you for all you did to support the cause of craft beer. You will be missed.

“It’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer.” – Don Younger.