Few American craft beers are as seminal – and also sadly forgotten – as Celis White. It was created by legendary Belgian brewer Pierre Celis, best known for reviving the entire style of Belgian wheat beer (also known as a “white beer” or “witbier”) when he created Hoegaarden in the 1960s. Over time, he became disillusioned with that brand, eventually coming to the US to open his own brewery in Austin, Texas, in 1992. There, he created Celis White, purportedly using his original, unadulterated Hoegaarden recipe. The beer was highly-regarded and extremely popular (especially for those days before craft beer was everywhere), inspiring a number of well-known imitators including Blue Moon, the best-selling non-lager beer in America. But Celis sold out to Miller, and though the brand lived on with declining quality, the brewery itself was shuttered in 2001.
Still, craft beer aficionados haven’t forgotten about Celis White. The witbier recently finished 14th on our list of “The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed.” And though Pierre passed away in 2011 at the age of 86, his daughter, Christine Celis, has also kept alive dreams of bringing her father’s American brews back to their former glory. That plan took a major step forward this week, as a reinvigorated Celis brand, under Christine’s guidance, announced it will be opening a new 22,000-square-foot, 50,000-barrel-plus brewery in the company’s original home of Austin, Texas, with production expected to start this spring.
Simply getting her hands back on her own Celis name wasn’t easy for Christine. After being sold to Miller, the brand was then acquired and brewed by the Michigan Brewing Company before the rights were eventually sold domestically to Total Beverage Solutions and internationally to Craftbev International Amalgamated. But at last, like a boxer reuniting the belts, Christine has reacquired the Celis beer trademark.
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From there, her plan is to get back to the brand’s roots as much as possible. “After we sold Celis Brewery, my father and I no longer had control of the recipe, production methods or ways the brand was managed,” Christine told me via email. “We are confident that with the return of the brand, trademark, and original recipes to the Celis family, we will once again brew beers that people will fall in love with all over again … making it the same way my father brewed it, using only the best ingredients, state of the art equipment, and high standards of quality.”
The new Celis brewery plans on reviving a lot of the old Celis recipes, including their famous Wit, and Christine is confident she can help repair that classic brew’s quality and reputation as well. “One of the most important aspects is that we will use the proprietary yeast strain brought from Belgium to ensure have the authentic Celis White,” she said. “One sip, and people will instantly remember their passion for the original. New fans will immediately understand why Celis was so beloved previous. It is a matter of family pride to restore the great reputation and quality of Celis beers.”
Obviously, a lot has changed since 1992, in the beer world especially. Once unique in the US, Belgian-style wheat beers are now available on practically every beer shelf across the country. That said, a good beer is a good beer, and Christine learned from the best, her father. Bringing Celis White back to life would be a bit like reviving the dinosaur, but, hey, who wouldn’t want to go to a real-life Jurassic Park?