July is Oregon Craft Beer month. There's plenty going on every month of the year in Oregon, but July is special. We use it to salute our thriving beer culture. It's perfectly fitting that Don Younger's birthday is in July. Don, who passed away in late 2011, would have been 72 on July 11. His legacy lives on in a big way in these parts.
Most everyone remembers Younger when they think of the Horse Brass Pub. Don bought the place during a day (and night) of heavy drinking in 1976. He and his brother, Bill, ran it as an authentic British-style pub. The theme stuck.
The Horse Brass eventually became a haven for craft brewers and beer long before either had any standing in this town. Just ask around. Ask Kurt and Rob Widmer. Ask Karl Ockert or Dick or Nancy Ponzi. Ask Brian or Mike McMenamin. Ask Art Larrance or Fred Bowman. Don was an early craft beer convert. Brewers would meet at the Horse Brass to conduct tastings and share ideas. It was a big deal.
A lot of people probably have no idea where the idea for Oregon Craft Beer Month came from. Don Younger played a leading role. The idea was born years ago when he was talking to Lisa Morrison and others about Oregon breweries who were left out of the Oregon Brewers Festival. They came up with the idea of a Fringe Fest featuring those breweries. That became Oregon Beer Week the following year and eventually Oregon Craft Beer Month, now run by the Oregon Brewers Guild.
"Don went viral before anyone knew what it meant," says John Foyston, longtime Oregonian beer guru. "He started Fringe Fest, Oregon Beer Week and Oregon Craft Beer Month. People somehow assume these ideas have always been out there...like craft beer. But that's not the case. Someone had to think these things up and Don was the guy who played a huge role in that."
"Don was an early supporter of craft brewers and good beer in general," recalls Alan Sprints, founder of Hair of the Dog Brewing. "Don gave me a permanent handle at his pub to pour my beer when no one else would."
In 1999, Younger partnered with Jerry Fechter of Lompoc Brewing, an arrangement that lasted until Younger's death. "I didn't know how influential Don was until I started talking to him," Fechter recalls. "He knew everyone and had been involved from the start. He liked everybody. If he didn't like you, he wouldn't tell you or let you know it."
Don's influence transcended Portland and Oregon. He became well-known around the country. There are some great stories of his exploits while on the road. But he remained down to earth. He hired people who were down on their luck and they stayed loyal for years. He loaned money to people who wanted to start a business, telling them to pay him back when they could.
It's hard to say what Portland's beer landscape would look like today without Younger's influence. We would certainly have a lot of good beer. Would we have what we have? Almost certainly not.
So mark July 11 on you calendar...and raise a toast to Don Younger. And if you happen to miss the 11th, almost any day or days in July will do. Because Oregon Craft Beer Month is a big part of Don Younger's legacy.
Cheers, Don. We wish you were here.