It's a sad day for the brewing world, especially in Austin. The legendary Belgian brewer Pierre Celis passed away yesterday.
I was still a newbie to the craft beer world in the 1990s when more knowledgeable Austin beer lovers than I were suddenly abuzz with news that some guy from Belgium was moving here and opening a brewery. The importance was lost on me back then, but now I realize just how big a deal it was. Celis singlehandedly saved the fading beer style known as witbier, or white beer, at the Hoegaarden brewery back in the 1960s.
Three decades later, attracted by the water quality due to the limestone karst geography, he decided to open a brewery in Austin. It quickly became quite popular locally, and Celis endeared himself to the locals. Texas beer fans were suddenly rubbing shoulders with a rock star. He made a pale bock, a grand cru, a raspberry beer, and his signature white. I liked the pale bock, having been a fan of Shiner Bock in college at the University of Texas at Austin.
I quickly realized the Celis Pale Bock was a superior beer to my longtime favorite, and it opened my eyes to the craft beer boom that was taking off nationally. I admit my palate wasn't quite mature enough yet to appreciate the Grand Cru and the White, and before I could learn to like it, he sold the brewery to Miller. The corporate giant didn't really know what to do with a craft brewery, and it quickly went out of business.
Thankfully, Michigan Brewing Company bought the rights to the label and recipes a few years ago, and Celis' brilliant creations are available again, just without "Austin, Texas" on the label. On a whim, I decided to give the Grand Cru and White another try, and now I think they're fantastic. I wish I'd realized just how great they were back then, and wish I'd gotten to know Celis back when he was here. His passing makes me appreciate all the more the really talented brewers we have working in Austin now, some of whom are directly inspired by Celis, such as Kevin Brand at 512, who consulted with Pierre in developing his own delicious Wit recipe.
If you've never tasted Pierre's work, go to the store today, grab a sixer of Celis White or Grand Cru, and raise a toast to the passing of a master.
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