I had the good fortune to meet Christine Celis at a beer trade show in Tampa, Florida February of last year. The daughter of the legendary Pierre Celis – the man who single-handedly kept witbier from disappearing altogether back in the 1960s – was there with samples of some other beer that she liked, but was not from the family recipe book.
Yes, they had just re-secured the rights to the Celis name and recipes, but production – and packaging – takes a certain amount of time. Wait… they had to re-secure their name and recipes?
I first wrote about Pierre Celis back in March, 2011. Long story short: milkman/brewing apprentice keeps the Belgian town of Hoegaarden’s witbier tradition alive, building burns down, multi-national conglomerations buy up the rights, brewer gets irked, moves to Austin with his daughter, opens a new brewery, another multi-national shoves him out, brewer moves back home to Belgium to make some of the best beer ever, brewer passes away in April 2011.
From 1992 to 2000, Pierre and his new apprentice Kim Clarke made traditional Belgian beer in the heart of Texas. The other investors, however, made a few wrong moves and ended up selling out the control of the company – including Celis’ name – to Miller-Coors who ended up simply closing the brewery. The rights and recipes were acquired by Michigan Brewing Co in 2002. Formulas were tinkered with, ratings dropped. Ten years later, MBC closed for good and the Celis legacy was once again at auction.
Luckily, Christine was able to be a part of the group that actively sought to regain the name. Twenty years after her and her father first came to America, she finally had the chance to fully realize Pierre’s vision of bringing traditional Belgian ale to the world. Celis Brewing had returned.
Christine reunited with Kim Clarke, now Celis’ Brew Master. Free from parent-company interference at last, they set out to re-create Pierre’s own recipes. Knowing that it could reach a broad audience, I brought in some of their Raspberry Wheat to show Celis’ potential to Pensacola.
Although it says “raspberry” in the name, don’t go expecting a rich, mouth-implodingly sour lambic. This wheat ale is elegant, light and very crisp-bodied. Clear gold with a fluffy eggshell white head, this beer has floral scents of berry blossom alongside some raw bread dough and a tart, yeasty must. Soft raspberry hits the palate up front with sweet cereal malt notes riding along behind it plus a small hint of sugar cookie. The finish is quietly noticeable with absolutely no lingering heavy textures.
I wish Christine had this to sample when I met her, that way I could have told her in person what I get to say now. Your father would be very proud of you, continuing his work while making it your own.