Portland's status as a beer mecca can be traced back to a grungy, dimly lit neighborhood British pub. The late, great publican Don Younger's famous Horse Brass wasn't just the first place in town to pour many English beers, and one of the first accounts for fledgling West Coast breweries like Sierra Nevada, but the first place to feature Oregon breweries like BridgePort and Deschutes. It even helped launch Stumptown Coffee.
Horse Brass celebrates its 40th anniversary this week with special tappings and collaboration beers from longtime bartenders and local brewers.
Here's a look at some of the most important days in the Brass' storied history.
Sometime in 1976: Don Younger awakens from a late drinking session to discover he's purchased a year-old pizza joint-turned-pub called Horse Brass. He finds the bill of sale written on a cocktail napkin on his desk. He breaks the news to his brother and business partner, Bill Younger, during a game of darts.
1978: Don Younger—nicknamed Captain Blitz from his high high-school years—discovers Bass Ale and falls in love with British culture. Younger, who had previously drunk Blitz-Weinhard beer, establishes a sister-city relationship with London pub the Prince of Wales, which was renamed the Princess of Wales after Diana's death in 1997. Younger later describes craft beer as "primitive" and "barbaric."
1979: Oregon gets its first craft brewery, Cartwright Brewing. Horse Brass is one of the first places to carry bottles of Cartwright, thanks to a local beer distributor named Mike McMenamin, owner of Produce Row Cafe.
"We were selling [Cartwright] through our distributorship, and Don was excited about anything new," McMenamin says.
Cartwright closed after customers complained about infected beer.
1983: Horse Brass installs a hand pump to pour authentic English-style cask pints, establishing it as one of the most authentic British pubs in America.
1984: BridgePort and Widmer Brothers breweries open. Both owe early success to the enthusiastic support of Don Younger and Horse Brass.
"Not many publicans were willing to give Kurt and me a chance, but Don Younger was an enthusiastic supporter from the start," says Rob Widmer. "In 1986, most Americans had never seen a cloudy beer, so hefe blew their minds. And Don, with his colorful personality, was instrumental in helping us assure his guests the beer was supposed to look the way it did."
Spring of 1999: A young Duane Sorenson moves to Portland is hired on by Younger. He washes dishes and works at the neighboring bottle shop while building out the first Stumptown Coffee Roasters with a small loan from Younger. "I'm a fuckin' alum, motherfucker! I'm surprised they haven't retired my jersey," says Sorenson, who still occupies a seat at Horse Brass most weekdays.
Jan. 1, 2009: Oregon's statewide workplace smoking ban goes into effect, changing Horse Brass forever. Younger and his regulars hold a final protest smokeout, captured in a now-iconic photo.
"He never let that go," says friend and business partner Carl Singmaster. "It changed him, and it changed his whole attitude. His whole trajectory just declined after that."
Says Belmont Station co-owner Lisa Morrison: "I think that killed Don, I really do. He was heartbroken. He wanted to have his bar his way. I mean, he was not a healthy person, but I think that pushed him down a rabbit hole. He lost his spirit and his energy."
Jan. 31, 2011: Don Younger dies at age 69.
"I was at the hospital the night that Don passed away," says Art Larrance, founder of Cascade Brewing and the Oregon Brewers Festival. "I had my private time with Don. I mean, he was in a coma and there was only about four of us there, but I felt privileged to be given that opportunity to share some time alone. He touched a lot of different people."
Beer lovers flocked to Horse Brass for Younger's wake, where many bottles of Macallan 12-year were drunk. "There was a cardboard cutout of Don Younger, and they put it in his favorite stool of the bar," Mike McMenamin says. "I looked over and saw it, and it was an uncanny likeness. It scared the hell out of me."
GO: Horse Brass, 4534 SE Belmont St., horsebrass.com, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with special tappings, including staff collaborations with local breweries. Through Nov. 6.