Pierre Celis, 1925-2011, giant of the Belgian Beer world

on 10/04/11 at 7:51 pm


Pierre Celis, who died yesterday, is something of a legend in the beer world.  The basic story is that he unilaterally resurrected the style of Belgian Witbier back in the mid 1960s, eventually sold out, and recreated the brewery in Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s.

In the mid 1960s, Celis was reminiscing in his home town of Hoegaarden with some old timers about the local Witbier that had last been brewed in 1955, and he decided to bring it back.  Celis started the Hoegaarden Brewery, now famous for its Hoegaarden Witbier.  At some point in the mid to late 1980s, a fire severely damaged the brewery.  Several other brewers chipped in to help get him going again, one of whom was Interbrew, the Belgian giant.  Over time, Interbrew (now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev) made demands on Celis to, essentially, dumb down the recipe, so Celis sold out to Interbrew.

He decided to take advantage of the growing popularity of good beer in the United States by relocating his brewery to the US.  The mineral composition of water makes a difference to many (but not all) beer styles, and Celis required a water profile as close as possible to Hoegaarden.  He found that in Austin, and opened the Celis Brewery (1992?  1993?), using a recipe for the Wit that was, he claimed, the original Hoegaarden.  This was a fantastic beer, and in order to aid in distribution, Celis sold a stake to Miller.  In a familiar story, Celis sold out entirely to Miller, who eventually closed the brewery in early 2001 claiming that it wasn’t selling enough.

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