By Heather Vandenengel
One of the best-known Belgian brewers to cross over to the United States was Pierre Celis, a Belgian brewing legend credited with reviving the white beer, or witbier, style in 1966.
Celis, who died in 2011 at the age of 86, had a brewing career of revivals and reinvention. He revived witbier, an unfiltered wheat beer flavored with orange peel and coriander, calling it Hoegaarden, after the town where he lived and worked as a milkman, and where white beer was brewed for many years. He opened the brewery, Brouwerij Celis, in 1966. After a devastating fire in 1985, Interbrew gave him funds to help rebuild and then bought the brewery in 1990.
Celis moved to Austin, TX, where he opened Celis Brewery in 1992. Because he struggled to keep up with demand for the product, he sold a majority stake of the company to Miller Brewing Co. (now Miller-Coors), which in 2001 closed the brewery and sold the brand to Michigan Brewing Co.
Now Celis might be revived once more. In June 2012, Pierre’s daughter, Christine Celis, announced that she is hoping to open a Celis Brewery again in Austin, after buying the trademark back from Michigan Brewing. It would brew the Celis White, Pale Bock, Grand Cru, Raspberry and Dubbel, in addition to a line of more experimental beers that would be brewed under a different name. Celis, who lives in Austin, says she is searching for investors who she feels share her family’s vision.
While Pierre Celis’ witbier has come a long way from Belgium, Christine Celis says that location was never as important as the quality and consistency of product.
“Before we came to Texas, everyone was, like, ‘Why Texas? Why not California? Why not Colorado? Why not the East Coast? Why not Chicago? Why in God’s name, Texas? But I always believed that it doesn’t matter where you brew the beer; the two most important things are a good story and the quality of the product.”