brand and bottle
Posted by Abe Sauer on April 11, 2011 02:30 PM
Pierre Celis passed away on Saturday, April 9. To most his name itself probably doesn't mean much, but to beer drinkers, his influence has almost assuredly had an impact. Celis was born in 1925 in a little Belgian town called Hoegaarden.
A longtime milkman, Celis did not start making beer until he was 40. He started in a cowshed. In 1966, he opened the Celis Brewery and did rather well until his brewery burned down in the 1985. Celis duly sold his European interest.
In 2005, Celis explained his reason for selling out, saying, "I needed 280 million Belgian francs to rebuild but I only got 40 million from the insurers. The banks wouldn't help but then Stella Artois offered to invest in return for 45 per cent of the shares." Celis's relationship with Stella soon soured and when Interbrew took over, he sold the rest of his stake.
Inbev kept the doors of the brewery in Hoegaarden open despite plans to close it in 2006.
Celis, meanwhile, opened an all new Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, and created a new brand based largely on the original Hoegaarden recipe, Celis White. The operation was eventually bought by Miller Brewing which in turn shuttered it and sold the brand name to Michigan Brewing Company.
Within the industry, Celis is seen as a master brewer and legendary figure, credited with single-handedly reviving the tradition of Belgian White Beer (wheat beer). While Hoegaarden has never achieved a mainstream following, its brand champions are fiercely loyal.
In 2005, even though Hoegaarden's population numbered only about 6,100, the Hoegaarden Brewery was entertaining 30,000 visitors per year. After his death was announced, obituaries of appreciation appeared around the web from those in the know, including one that started: "It's a sad day for the brewing world..."
Celis is often referred to in testimonials as a "purist," which may be one of the reasons his beer brands never achieved greater notoriety. Indeed, the brewer settled on Austin because the city's limestone created the perfect water quality and high standards demanded by Celis to brew his beer.
It's said, Michigan boasts similar water. For a remarkably comprehensive look at Celis' life, check out "White Beer Travels."