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A Belgian-Texas Blast from the Past

story and photos by Anthony Head

It was sometime back in the distant past—like, 2000—when I began seriously exploring different beer styles. Such an endeavor brought me to Bristol Farms, a gourmet foods store near the corner of Fairfax and Sunset in Los Angeles, where I found a red-tinged beer. It looked neat. It looked refreshing. One bottle, that’s all they had, and that’s all I got of Celis Raspberry, but this traditionally brewed lambic was incredible—neat and refreshing, not too sweet, but engaging in a way that I’ve never encountered. In a word it was transcending.

But the following week, it was off the shelf. So, too, was it the next week, never to be seen again.

These were the early years (for me, anyway) of the World Wide Web and I remember “surfing the net” for information about this lost treasure. What I found was a modern-day tragedy—but one that apparently has a happing ending.

Brewed in Austin, Texas, by the first craft brewery inside the city limits, Celis’s raspberry beer was just one in a celebrated lineup with roots stretching back to Belgium. The flagship beer, Celis White, was a witbier style that owner Pierre Celis revived at his Brouwerij De Kluis in his hometown of Hoegaarden, Belgium, before coming to Texas.

In a land dominated by Lone Star Beer, Celis became the stuff of legend—until the Miller Brewing Company took notice. It’s a long, convoluted story at this point, involving financial struggles and maybe even a few broken promises, but leave it to say that about the time I was finishing my last swig of Celis Raspberry in L.A., Austin’s first brewery was essentially off of the market.

Celis Revived

Prost!” shouted Christine Celis, Pierre Celis’ daughter and partner in the original brewery, as she raised a glass of Celis White; she is now Founder and CEO of the new Celis Brewery in Austin.

Founder of Austin's new Celis Brewery, Christine Celis,
with a glass of her father's famous witbier.

“Prost!” returned the toast from a select group of media in late June, who’d gathered for a preview of the new brewery and to hear about the re-birth of an Austin original.

“My dad was all about the beer,” Celis continued, explaining first that Pierre passed away in 2011, but that he had chosen Austin because “the water is similar here, filtered through the limestone, and it helped make the beers taste authentic to our past. He’d also heard Austin was kind of different, with young, adventurous demographics, and would take to his cloudy, European-style beers.”

She’s betting on lighting striking again. On July 11, 2017, the new 22,000-square-foot Celis Brewery and Copper Kettle Tap Room opened to the public, eager to taste some of the original Celis magic. And “original” is the key word because Celis has not only revived her father’s styles of beer, the brewery is using some of the original equipment alongside its new 50 HL BrauKon brew system, which was specifically constructed according to Celis’s original Belgian brewing methods. 

Celis's Copper Kettle Tap Room.

Plus, in many cases, Celis uses the original recipes original ingredients, including the proprietary yeast strain that helped launch the witbier. Naturally, the opening lineup includes Celis White, with up-front florals dominating the frothy head of aromas, and citrus, spice, and floral flavors highlighting the cloudy presentation. It’d be perfect with so many Mediterranean and Indian dishes.

“People are excited about the return of our beers,” Celis told me. “I don’t feel too much pressure from the town, but I am focused on the quality of the beers, so I guess I’m pressuring myself.”

There are new styles coming, including a zesty Grand Cru ale, a very smooth Pale Bock with a standout finish that I think is still going to this day, and the Citrus Grandis “East Coast IPA,” with calm, approachable hops and a full, creamy finish—all served in a spacious taproom featuring one of the brewery’s original hand-manufactured copper kettles.

Celis Pale Bock.

Unfortunately, for now, there is no raspberry lambic. “It’s in the works,” Celis assured me, possibly seeing the tears well up behind my eyes when I asked her about it. “We just have to get the equipment prepared for that style. But it’s coming.”

When that happens, it might be best if everyone just stays out of my way until I get enough to satisfy me for another 17 years.

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