Austin, Texas is about to witness the rebirth of its first craft brewery with the resurrection of Celis Brewery, which was originally founded by Belgian brewer Pierre Celis in 1992. Christine Celis, Pierre’s daughter and partner in the original Celis Brewery, is restoring the family legacy with a new 22,000 square foot brewery in northwest Austin that is expected to start production in Spring 2017.
First, a little history about a fascinating man and his iconic brand. In 1966, a milkman named Pierre Celis, in the town of Hoegaarden, Belgium, decided to revive witbier, a regional beer style that had become extinct in 1955 when the town’s last brewery closed.
Pierre Celis’s first brewery was originally located in his father’s stable. In 1972, he relocated to an abandoned soft drink factory, and by 1985, he was brewing 300,000 barrels a year. Tragically, Celis’s Hoegaarden Brewery burned to the ground that same year, forcing Pierre, who was underinsured, to sell the Hoegaarden brand to Belgian giant Interbrew. That company, now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev, continues to make Hoegaarden.
At the age of 67, Celis moved to the Untied States and founded a microbrewery in Austin in 1992 – a slow, sad time for brewing in the United States. In 1992 there were approximately 350 active breweries in the country, Celis’s Belgian brewing expertise was a welcome addition to what would become the craft beer scene. As to why he chose to settle where he did, Celis, who spoke English haltingly, remarked that he chose Texas because its inhabitants speak with a slow drawl, making them easier to understand.
Their first beer, Celis White, received a perfect four-star rating from the British beer writer Michael Jackson in his Pocket Guide to Beer. Celis Brewery made several other varieties of Belgian beer in addition to the celebrated White, including Dubbel, Grand Cru, Pale Bock, Pale Rider and Raspberry.
Despite Kitchenboy’s best efforts to keep the brewery afloat from afar, Celis floundered, declining further after the brewery was purchased by Miller Brewing Company, who shuttered the plant at the end of the year 2000. In 2002, Celis White and other brands were acquired by Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville, Michigan, who continued to produce the beer until 2012 when the company was foreclosed upon and its assets sold at auction.
Now, the brand has found its way home with Ms. Celis having reacquired the “Celis” trademark from the then-current domestic and international rights owners, Total Beverage Solution (TBS) and Craftbev International Amalgamated., Inc.
“TBS is pleased to be able to help reunite the family with the brand,” says President and CEO of TBS, Dave Pardus.
Sushil Tyagi, President of Craftbev, who had originally acquired the Celis brand from Michigan Brewing Company and had retained international rights until now says, “We worked for years for this day to come when Celis is restored to its hometown and we look forward to helping further expand Celis beers around the world.”
“Rebuilding the Celis Brewery has been a labor of love that has taken me many years to accomplish,” says Ms. Celis. “We have a new location and new state-of-the-art brewing equipment, but will brew the same great Celis beers like the famous Celis Wit and Celis Grand Cru, to name a few. This new brewery has the capacity to brew more than 50,000 barrels per year, including Pierre Celis’ recipes from both the original Celis Brewery and his earlier days in Belgium. It’s an honor to carry on my family’s brewing legacy with my father’s original 1965 recipes using the proprietary yeast from Belgium.”
Celis Brewery will not only brew the original Belgian recipes, but it will do so with members of the brewing team from the original Celis Brewery. Led by Christine Celis, the team will include the master brewer and the Belgian brew engineer who designed the new brewery. Daytona Camps, daughter of Ms. Celis, will also join the brewing team.
A centerpiece of the original Celis Brewery, its massive copper kettle, was sold along with the original brewery and moved out of state. It has since made the journey back to Texas to be reunited with the family, and will be used as a beautiful bar in the new brewery’s taproom.
The new Celis Brewery is rapidly taking shape with the recent installation of a 50 HL Braukon brewing system. In addition to a production and distribution facility, the large warehouse complex in North Austin includes a beer garden and taproom, cafe, and 3,800-square-foot museum.
The historic brewing equipment, used by Mr. Celis in Belgium to make his famous witbier in his hometown of Hoegaarden, arrived in Austin late last year and will be on display at the Celis Brewery museum in when it opens later this Spring.
Sadly, Pierre Celis died on April 9, 2011, at age 86, and never saw the rebirth of his beloved brewery at the hand of his daughter Christine.
Kitchenboy is thrilled to see Celis reborn and producing old school Belgian beer. In the years since its demise, the American craft beer scene has changed for better, with many quality brewers creating highly acclaimed Belgian style beers. I wish Celis all the best and look forward to again enjoying the quality beers that were “Born in Belgium & brewed in Austin.”
**Disclosure – Links to Celis Brewery and Beer Advocate provide no compensation to Kitchenboy.net nor its owners