The Story of the Horse Brass Pub
It was a dark and stormy autumn afternoon in 1976 when Don Younger sat with a friend in an obscure South East Portland tavern waiting for his car to be fixed. Don was a devout Blitz drinker at the time and this tavern with 6 taps (2 wits, Lowenbrau, Whatney’s Red Barrel, Guinness and Blitz) was the closest place to while away the afternoon. Day turned to night and while the details of that evening remain vague, we do know that Don met with owners Jay and Jay.
The next morning Don met with his brother and business partner Bill and invited him to have a drink. Bill knew something was up. When they got to the tavern Don began to show him around, then Don pointed to the top of a wooden keg hanging on the wall that read “William Younger’s Tartan Bitter” and said, I bought this for you but I didn’t know how to wrap it and since it doesn’t come off the wall we got the whole kit and caboodle”. Bill was not happy. They didn’t have any money. (Truth be told, Don saw the bill of sale when he woke up and had no idea how it happened.)
Together they scrounged up the money and on November 1, 1976 the two Younger brothers who had never stepped foot in England and had no idea what a pub was became the proud owners of what would soon become the world famous Horse Brass Pub.
The early years were spent adding more taps, imports and domestic beer alike. Recent UK transplants Bette and Brian Dutch, the first two employees of the Pub helped develop many of the homemade specialties still on the menu today; bangers, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, ploughman’s lunch, pies and pasties. Our world famous Halibut Fish and Chips are award winning (Willamette Week – Best Fish and Chips) and our food has been featured on Food Channel’s “The Secret Life of Pub Grub”.
A strong following of locals and ex-pats began to grow. Professional soccer was taking Portland by storm and the Horse Brass became their haven as well. A crowd was developing with a thirst for all things British; sport, food and drink. “Something just clicked. In fact, when I started out I only had a fantasy of what an English pub should be. Then I decided to make it the best pub there is.”
The next step would be a fact finding mission to England with many more to follow. On one of these trips Don was introduced to John Young, owner of Young’s Brewery. During another tour of British pubs, Don met Terry and Debbie, proprietors of Young’s tied house, the Prince of Wales a pub in South London. A special bond was formed and the Prince of Wales became sister pub. Other trips ensued. Don organized a tans-Atlantic dart tournament – Brits vs. Yanks at the Prince of Wales. Friends, locals and regulars from both pubs have garnered many frequent flier miles travelling to their adopted local across the sea.
The 80’s heralded the budding of the microbrew phenomena. The Horse Brass was the perfect outlet to test and taste beer styles that had been absent since prohibition. “I kind of miss the good old days when the Widmer brothers and all the other brewers were hoping to just brew good beer and maybe make a living at it” Don said “when breweries were being put together out of old dairy equipment and dreams.” This of course meant adding more taps.
In 1989, Don and then General Manager Mel Hickman were asked by Jack Joyce to do some consulting for his newly created company Rogue Ales. To honor the Horse Brass, Rogue decided to brew a house beer in Don’s favorite style-a Special Bitter. The still unnamed beer was on its way to Portland, when Don received devastating news – the unfortunate and untimely death of his brother Bill. Don asked that the beer be named in honor of his brother Bill. William Younger’s Special Bitter is closest thing to a house beer we pour. You can always ask for a pint of “YSB” or if you prefer cask conditioned “Billy” – and when you do, drink a toast to the Caveman.
In 1997, following the death of Princess Diana, John Young renamed the Horse Brass’ sister pub the Princess of Wales. Longtime regular, employee and artist James Macko was commissioned by the Young’s family to paint a portrait of Diana and attend the renaming ceremonies. The Horse Brass held a fund raiser for this event with the proceeds going to Diana’s favorite charities. Ten ambassadors of the Horse Brass travelled to London to present the portrait and attend this historical event. The portrait of Princess Diana hung in the Princess of Wales until it was recently sold by Young’s when it travelled back across the pond where it now permanently resides above one of our “regulars” tables.
The Horse Brass celebrated its 30 year anniversary November 2006. A ten day celebration featuring craft beers from across the land specifically brewed for the Horse Brass. Food, entertainment and fun for ten days straight, it almost killed us. Young and old and everyone in between from near and far graced our halls. The curious, the all knowing, all beer fans and friends the minute they walked in the door. Everyone joined into at least one rousing round of the “Ballad of the Horse Brass” written many years ago by our friend Tom May.
The secret was out-not just by word of mouth, by National Press. The pub recently has been featured in the New York Times, Esquire Magazine, The Food Channel, Celebrator, All About Beer, The Oregonian to name a few.
In 2016, the Horse Brass Pub will celebrate 40 years of good beer, good food and good company. We invite you to stop by the Pub next time you’re in town. Enjoy a pint – we’ve grown to 59 beers on tap and remember “You’re a stranger no more when you walk through the door of the ol’ Horse Brass Pub”.