By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Surrounded by fans of The Bier Stein taking in the game or beering up for their own football festivities, Troy Potter can hardly believe that a few months ago he wasn't the new owner of Eugene's The Bier Stein. Working in sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Potter was happy where he was.
“I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner,” says Potter, “unless the perfect situation came up.”
Then it did.
At the 2016 Oregon Country Fair, Potter was having a beer with his longtime friends Kristina and Chip Hardy, founders of The Bier Stein. “Around one in the morning, I happened to mention, ‘If you ever want to sell, please talk to me first,’” says Potter. “They stopped, they giggled and said they’d been considering selling the place.”
The Hardys felt ready to pursue non-business interests, but didn’t want to be absentee owners. For the next year, when Potter wasn’t working as part of Ninkasi’s national sales team and managing accounts on the East Coast, he quietly evaluated buying the business.
“I was happy, making good money at a good job,” says Potter, “but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it and realized it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, Potter and silent partner Jon Farah officially became owners of The Bier Stein.
A Long Way From Cleveland
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Potter was 21 when in 1991 he grabbed his backpack and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Portland.
“I fell in love with craft beer, day one,” says Potter. “I spent six months drinking Widmer Hefeweizen with lemon, then Full Sail Amber, then Deschutes Black Butte Porter. But Bridgeport IPA was a game changer. I’ve been in love with IPAs ever since.”
After working as bar manager at an Italian restaurant and Kells Irish Pub, Potter’s interest in craft beer led him to jobs with McMenamins and Rogue. In 2007, his wife was about to graduate from Reed College, and they’d heard about a new brewery in Eugene. The day after graduation they moved south, where Potter became one of Ninkasi’s first employees. Fast-forward 10 years, Potter was learning how to be an owner.
Potter and Farah began working with a bank to navigate the “long, drawn-out process” of getting a Small Business Administration loan. Potter also worked side-by-side with the Hardys to understand day-to-day operations and get advice. Along with respecting the Hardy’s wishes to keep the sale quiet, Potter had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say anything to his colleagues. Then, finally, “the bank put everything in writing, and I gave my 30-day notice,” says Potter. “It was a surprise at Ninkasi.”
Smooth Transition, Strong Future
Founded in 2005, The Bier Stein began as a 2,100-square-foot bottle shop and beer bar between downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon campus. In 2012, The Bier Stein moved to a 12,000-square-foot building. Now offering more than 1,000 beers in bottles and from 30-plus taps, The Bier Stein seats 185 and has 50 employees. And that, says Potter, is how he wants things to be.
“The staff and managers are amazing, and everyone was excited to stay on,” says Potter. “I didn’t change one thing. Not the menu, not the beer. That turnkey aspect was in its truest form. Why change something that’s working perfectly?”
Potter is at the shop each day, working with managers and on marketing, advertising and overall operations. “I’ve also been bussing tables, running food. I intend to work in the kitchen and the bar too — keep my finger on the pulse and connect with customers,” says Potter. “The Bier Stein is about the best beer and the best customer experience. That’s what will keep The Bier Stein strong.”
Plans include growing The Bier Stein’s reputation as a destination and craft beer institution. “About 35 percent of our customers come from outside of Eugene, based on word of mouth.”
Increased customer education is also a priority. Potter wants all staff — including himself — to have Level Two Cicerone Certifications. “New customers come in, and they might know a little about beer, but it can be hard to come up to those cooler doors and pick a beer,” says Potter. “Something we can make better is to be there with customers and help them make that bottle purchase.”
Overall, Potter sees his role not as a game changer, but as the next generation. “My goal coming into The Bier Stein is not to change anything,” he explains. “My goal is to grab that torch that Chip and Kristina created and carry it forward. We’re going to keep it about the beer.”
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., Eugene
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The internet was supposed to make life easier and solve humanity’s problems, so who figured it would take an online bookstore more than two decades just to get beer deliveries to your home right? When Amazon rolled out its Prime Now service in late 2014, home beer and wine deliveries were discussed, but it wasn’t until August of 2017 that the service launched in Oregon. Amazon is famous for helping kill off local and big-box book retailers, and some are now concerned they could do the same to grocery stores and bottle shops.
Prime Now is an app for your phone or device that lets you order items you’d normally find at large grocers: food, household supplies and gadgets. To use this service, you must be an Amazon Prime member, which for $99 a year is easily worth it if you do any other online shopping or video/music streaming. Products are shipped through the company’s regional partners, and based on my zip code that would be New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market or Amazon’s local product center.
Ordering from each incurs a separate delivery fee (typically about $5) that’s waived when the purchase amount reaches a certain threshold. Amazon then adds a suggested $5 tip for the driver, which can be edited. Users choose a two-hour arrival window and it can be scheduled days in advance. If you’re in a hurry, one-hour delivery is available for a fee ranging from $4.99-7.99. Prices are comparable, if not exactly the same, as what’s in stores. Another benefit is the option to have your package left on a safe porch without signature (though you must be present with identification if purchasing alcohol).
Amazon’s Prime Now store is the only outlet in my zip code to ship beer, cider and wine (none of the hard stuff). There is a “Cold Beer” section with subcategories for “Local and Craft Beer” along with domestics, imports and specific styles. At this point, your choices are limited to the lineup you might find at your local mini-mart, but I suspect that will change — especially if there’s demand.
Under “Local and Craft Beer,” some might quibble with listings for Not Your Father’s Root Beer, Blue Moon, Elysian, 10 Barrel and Hop Valley, but that’s neither here nor there. More important to most is the local beer selection, which includes new and classic — but safe — hits from Breakside, BridgePort, Crux, Full Sail, Deschutes, Ecliptic, Fort George, Ninkasi, Oakshire, Pyramid, Rogue, Widmer and Worthy. National/international players are even more basic, like Corona, Guinness, New Belgium, Pacifico, Stella and, interestingly, Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen.
I have now ordered from Amazon’s Prime Now service five times, three of them specifically for beer, finding mostly good results. The delivery often arrives on the early side of the two-hour window, and they take care to put the beer in a thin, but still temperature-holding, Mylar bag along with an ice pack. I encountered one issue with my first purchase of two bottles of Breakside’s flagship IPA in 22-ounce bottles (well-priced at $4.29 each) and a six-pack of Pelican’s Beak Breaker Double IPA. Shortly after placing the order, I was notified via email that the Pelican beer wasn’t available. The rest of the items came as usual, and there was no charge for the six-pack — though it was still listed as being available more than a week later.
Polling the hive mind known as my social media connections, I came across one other interesting snag that I tested myself. When requesting a seasonal release, you may not end up with the beer you intend. For instance, one person discovered that an order placed for Fort George’s Suicide Squeeze IPA actually resulted in the brewery’s 3-Way IPA being delivered. I attempted to replicate this by ordering Suicide Squeeze along with Breakside’s Toro Red (the site actually pictured the brewery’s What Rough Beast beer). I ended up receiving the 3-Way as well and the India Golden Ale by Breakside. The lesson: beware of accuracy when it comes to ordering seasonals. On the plus-side, it’s nice to get a refund and still keep the beer by sending in a complaint. This, however, highlights areas where online beer delivery will most likely always fall short — in selection and depth of knowledge.
“Delivery works best for replenishing staples,” says Carl Singmaster, one of the proprietors of Belmont Station in Southeast Portland. “For the consumer that prefers to drink primarily one widely available brand consistently, it makes a lot of sense. But for those who are constantly exploring and learning, I think they'll prefer to shop at bricks and mortar.”
“When customers need friendly interaction, real opinions, industry gossip or tips, that's where we come in. There's nothing virtual about it,” says Sarah Pederson, owner of North Portland’s Saraveza tavern and bottle shop.
With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there’s a lot of concern that the massive company could push out mom-and-pop grocery and beer retailers. While most bottle shop owners I talked to think that Prime Now is more of a threat to big-box stores, they are still considering the possible consequences.
“We may lose some sales,” says Sean Campbell (aka John Beermonger), owner of The BeerMongers bottle shop and bar in Southeast Portland, “but I feel that is always a threat either from grocery stores or big liquor stores. Knowledgeable staff, good prices and good atmosphere should help keep the little guys in business.”
Sarah Pederson agrees, “I think Amazon grocery will affect grocery stores in the beer departments more than small bottle shops such as Saraveza. I can't imagine that all the time, effort, devotion and education we put into our selection on a weekly basis could be mimicked by a ginormous online store.”
In addition to the selection and expert customer support, Prime Now doesn’t offer details consumers want, like where their beer is coming from.
“I have so many customers who are very conscientious of what brands they purchase in regards to the ownership of the brewery,” says Sarah Pederson. “I don't know if these people refuse to shop at Walmart or on Amazon, but I'm curious to hear from them.”
The area where Amazon really could hurt small businesses is pricing. “The biggest concern is that a company of the scale and with the cash on hand of an Amazon can subsidize their service to undercut other retailers. The other concern would be if producers and distributors give them outsized allocations of limited-release beers,” comments Singmaster.
Beermonger is more concerned about the beer itself. “I know not all beer is stored properly. I see it in big stores, but also specialty stores. If people get inferior product that was stored and shipped under less-than-ideal conditions, they may blame the brewery for making bad beer. This is a problem that often comes up and I see this new delivery system increasing the likelihood of beer that is ‘off.’”
Overall, these craft-centric retailers were interested in following this new wave of beer delivery, but didn’t seem overly worried about competition. In some cases, they were even encouraging.
“I am all for consumers having as many options and choices available to them as possible,” says Singmaster. “For those that prefer to have their groceries delivered rather than visiting stores in person, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to put beer and wine into the mix.”
“Convenience sells. This move by Amazon and Whole Foods is a sign of the times, and we shouldn't be surprised by it. In fact, we should be prepared for more of it. People are very emotional, and often fearful, about big business and how it takes over. It's not necessarily a bad thing for the craft beer movement, but it sure is an interesting twist in this ever-changing industry.”
One thing is for sure, now that there are more ways to get beer delivered, Amazon won’t be the only one to get into the business. Additional specialty retailers are likely on the way. We already have draft growler beer subscription services in companies like Hopsy and bottle subscription through Tavour, among others.
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In an industry full of fresh-faced brewers with their shiny kettles and polished mash tuns, the breweries that make into the double digits become the hard-nosed veterans. That means Lompoc Brewing’s 20th anniversary is nothing to shake a mash paddle at.
After 20 years in Portland, you’re practically an original. And that leaves some of Lompoc’s older pubs as icons in this city. Take, for instance, the Hedge House on the always-busy and trendy Southeast Division Street in a 1912 craftsman-style bungalow, the yard intact doing double duty as a patio. The spot feels like a throwback to a Portland of rough-edged comfort before gleaming condos and concrete storefronts began replacing all of the buildings with character.
The New Old Lompoc was one such Portland institution, a vestige of the old Northwest Portland 23rd Avenue before it became a destination for boutiques and cafes. The Lompoc story began there. Jerry Fechter was fresh out of college and returned from a post-graduation trip to Europe where he discovered beer. He decided to move to Portland.
“I had a real job for a year and I didn’t like it, so I started working for these two guys (Bob Rice and Pete Goforth) that owned a whole bunch of restaurants.” Fechter ended up at the Old Lompoc Tavern — then just a pub serving cheap drinks. “I started bartending for these guys, counting the money, being the errand boy and stuff and homebrewing at the same time” said Fechter.
At some point, Goforth and Rice decided they wanted to start a brewery at Old Lompoc Tavern, and Fechter knew a little about the business through friends who worked for McMenamins as well as his background in homebrewing. The year was 1994 and the brewing scene was in its infancy.
“BridgePort was around. McMenamins was around. The hot beer was Full Sail Amber and Golden.” After laying out plans to start a brewery, Fechter took the short course at Siebel Institute in Chicago and brewed the first Old Lompoc beer in 1996. It was a bitter Marzen.
“The theory was, let’s make an over-the-top malty beer and just bitter the shit out of it because we didn’t really know where the additions would be from the kettle. If it was too thin, we could call it something different. If it were too bitter ... we had options was the point.”
Fast forward to 2000. It’s a new millennium and the Old Lompoc is struggling as a tavern. They were brewing 300-350 barrels a year, but the place just wasn’t very busy. During a game of golf, Fechter offered to purchase the Old Lompoc from Goforth and Rice, even though there was only three years left on the lease. A few potential business partners fell through, but Fechter eventually connected with the late, great Don Younger, owner of Horse Brass Pub. They upgraded the menu and made the beers a little hoppier, eventually reopening the pub as “New Old Lompoc Tavern” in 2001. The addition of a patio to the space also proved to be a success.
Jerry opened the second outlet, Lompoc Hedge House, in 2003. Fifth Quadrant came in 2005 and the Oaks Bottom Public House a year later. “Opening each pub seemed like milestones. We wanted them to be ‘Lompoc,’ but also different.”
Lompoc’s current head brewer Bryan Keilty joined the brewery in 2006, which is when the production brewery on North Williams Avenue opened. A 10-year veteran, he has overseen the expansion of brands and the changing landscape in beer styles and diversity. He’s also experienced Lompoc’s growth from brewpub to distributing brewery.
“I inform every potential hire that you will see every aspect of the industry in a small craft brewery,” Keilty said. “We wear so many different hats! At Lompoc, we rotate brewing and cellaring duties — but we also work on the bottling line, perform tastings in the grocery store, deliver kegs, plan release parties, help with label design and social media. The list goes on.”
Keilty’s culinary background shows in his more balanced approached to beers. During his tenure, Lompoc has excelled at producing fruit beers, barrel-aged brews and farmhouse ales. He counts the year-round best seller Proletariat Red as a favorite, “I love the balance between the malt and the hops! Balance is an overlooked aspect in beer, especially in the Northwest.”
Sadly in 2012, the original Lompoc was razed for new condos and retail. Luckily, Fechter secured a spot in the same building to open what is now called simply the “Lompoc Tavern.” The building doesn’t have the same history. The beloved patio is gone. And modern cold, slick feel (an update forced by developer) is a marked departure from Old Lompoc. But there is a wide selection of Lompoc beers, top-of-the-line pub grub and big front windows that open to sidewalk seating.
“It's been 20 years of brewing and evolving and always trying make things better, not be complacent,” Fechter said. “I think our beer and food are the best they have ever been.”
Even so, Fechter went back to the well for Lompoc’s 20th anniversary beer “Zwanzig,” which means “twenty” in German. It’s a re-creation of his very first brew, a bitter Marzen. While Fechter doesn’t have the original recipe, Zwanzig was brewed like he remembers it — with a pale orange color and full malty body. The modern update included eight hop additions and it was tapped during anniversary celebrations in December.
Twenty years in, breweries like Lompoc cannot rest on their accomplishments. It’s more of a struggle than ever to stay relevant and keep pace in a crowded market of new and expanding breweries and experimental brewing styles. Consumers are always looking for something new, which means breweries must constantly get drinkers to return.
“You have to spend more time, money and effort just to remind people that you exist.” said Keilty.
When asked what it is they do differently than others to stand out and stay relevant, Fechter said he didn’t know. But the question sparked something.
“I was trying to figure out about what the next big thing would be. I think about it all the time. I thought it used to be IPAs, and in my mind, in Oregon it dwindled down about eight or nine years ago,” Fechter explained. “Then I thought it was Belgian beers. Sours have really been blowing it up.”
After pausing for a moment, he wondered, “Maybe the next style might be no style.”
The good news is that however saturated Portland becomes, there’s always the draw of a neighborhood pub. And that is where Lompoc excels.
By Don Scheidt
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.” - Earle Hitchner
Go back 40 years from the current day. What does 40 years ago mean in American terms? Jimmy Carter would win a presidential election over Gerald Ford in post-Watergate America. The year marked America’s Bicentennial — 200 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In a small way, 1976 also began to usher in some changes to American-made food and drink, industries that were dominated by large corporations at the time. Choice was the exception, not the rule; it was a big deal to have more than four or five beers on tap — an even bigger deal if there were imported beers among them.
It was against this backdrop that Don and Bill Younger became owners of the Horse Brass Pub in Southeast Portland. The takeover date of Nov. 1, 1976 comes with a nearly apocryphal story of a bill of sale, written on a cocktail napkin, found on Don's desk (or was it on top of his dresser?) after an evening of drinking. He broke the news to his brother after taking him into the business explaining he wanted to buy him a sign from the Scottish brewery with the same last name displayed on the wall, but wound up purchasing the whole establishment — a pub where you could choose from a half-dozen beers on tap.
Initially, selection was what was offered from the distributors: taste-alike American lagers, a few imports of dubious freshness, maybe some Anchor Steam from San Francisco. But when Cartwright Brewing Company opened in Portland in 1979, there was support from Horse Brass — an early sign that Don and company would be taking an interest in the burgeoning small-brewery scene, despite his fondness for Blitz.
While Cartwright folded, others came online, slowly but surely: Widmer Brothers Brewing and BridgePort Brewing Company in 1984, Portland Brewing Company in 1986, as well as Rogue Ales and Deschutes Brewery in 1988. During this time, Don was a champion of these businesses and Horse Brass become a primary sales point and supportive meeting place for new brewing entrepreneurs, whether they set up shop in Portland or were located out of town.
There was this microbrewery thing emerging — small-scale commercial producers with flavorful beers similar to imports on tap. For Horse Brass, the choice was obvious: support these guys and their beers. Add taps. Introduce people to local beverages. Give the owners of these specialty breweries business advice, even a little cash if needed. For instance, when Rogue first sent kegs out to the general trade, Horse Brass was first in line. A relationship between the pub and brewery formed quickly and naturally, one that was cemented in 1989 when Rogue made a special bitter for Horse Brass as its house beer.
A time of celebration coincided with tragedy, when Bill had an untimely death. Don asked that the beer from Rogue be named as a memorial to his departed brother. And so it became Younger's Special Bitter — “YSB” to many, cask-conditioned “Billy” to the regulars. By this time, Don was thoroughly in the microbrewery camp, and the tap selection was in a state of near-constant expansion.
As Horse Brass emerged as one of Portland’s premier beer bars, it gained repute far beyond the city’s boundaries. But the business had its troubled times too. There were economic downturns when people had less money to spend on extras like beer. Though Don and crew kept at it, having transformed the ordinary tavern into an English-style pub, complete with a beer engine for dispensing cask-conditioned ales and fish and chips that some consider the best in town.
The big test came at the end of 2008 when changes in local laws meant that Horse Brass — long a haven for tobacco smokers — would be smoky no more. Don, a front-of-house fixture often perched at the end of the bar with a beer and a cigarette, didn’t conceal his anger about the change. Many say his mood shifted after that as he was no longer allowed to smoke with others in a place he considered an extension of his home. But the pub prospered anyway, something even Don grudgingly admitted.
Later in 2010, the end approached. Failing health and injuries from an accident led to Don’s passing on Jan. 31, 2011. Longtime business manager Joellen Piluso has taken up the mantle of ownership, carrying on the pub’s traditions. The 40th anniversary celebration, held during the first week of November 2016, was a time of special beers — not just from local brewers, but from those across the country. There are numerous beers served at Horse Brass that weren’t even around during Don’s heyday, but that’s the spirit of the place. New brewers are always welcome if the beer is good.
In a young culture like Portland’s, 40 years may as well seem like 100 and plenty of people will happily come from 40 miles away to meet friends at Horse Brass. It’s the kind of place with a life of its own and is still instrumental in fostering the beer culture in the Pacific Northwest. There are people alive today who may yet help Horse Brass celebrate its 50th anniversary, or even its 100th, as should be the case with one of Portland's most enduring beer institutions.
Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont St., Portland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.