In the ever-expanding world of craft beer, you rarely get a second chance. Fail to gain a foothold in the marketplace, and your brewery could be sunk. Austin’s beer community is as close knit and supportive as a competitive market gets, but if you can’t stand out, you’ll quickly be forced to stand down.
These cold, hard facts make the story of Celis Brewery one for the ages. Like a phoenix reborn, Austin’s first craft brewery has risen from the ashes to reclaim its place among Austin’s beer elite. And it’s doing so with a heart for tradition, family, and old school quality.
Celis Brewery Story
Celis Brewery didn’t start as an Austin institution. The story begins in the humble town of Hoegaarden, Belgium with Pierre Celis. As a boy, Celis lived next to a beer-brewing family who specialized in making Belgian witbeer. After learning the ropes with his neighbor, Pierre offered his similar homebrew to thirsty townspeople.
The people of Hoegaarden begged Celis to brew full-time when his neighbor’s brewery closed. He obliged, and in 1965, Celis Brewery was officially born.
Fast forward to 1991. After a series of incidents, including a fire, a sale to a major beer company, and Celis’ retirement, the founder’s daughter, Christine, decided a change was needed. The family moved to Austin and reopened the brewery. By 1995, Celis Brewery was a serious player in the Austin bar scene.
Don’t get me wrong. At first, locals didn’t take kindly to the bizarre Belgian stuff with a funny name. In a world where Shiner and Lone Star were king, a citrusy, cloudy witbeer seemed out of place. But after time, the wit became a resounding success.
But the party wouldn’t last forever. In the year 2000, Celis Brewery was sold to Miller and unceremoniously closed a year later. The assets were liquidated and the brewery was no more.
Rebirth of a Legend
Christine Celis and the city of Austin never forgot what had been. After Pierre Celis’ passing, his daughter became determined to continue her father’s legacy. Over the next six years, she bought a building, found her father’s original yeast strain, and–most importantly–reacquired the brewery name.
Today’s taproom is awash with both Belgian and Celis family influences. Limestone bricks make up the walls, while large black and white photos of the old Belgian brewery line the back. The bartop is covered in coasters, photos, and advertisements from the old days. And hovering above the bar is the original copper kettle from the brewery in Hoegaarden. Christine Celis’ multi-state quest to find this artifact is a testament to her commitment to honor her father’s legacy.
This dedication to keeping it real is especially evident in the beer. Celis Brewery’s flagship style is Pierre Celis’ Belgian witbeer. The wit pours a pale golden yellow with a fluffy, fragrant head. The nose is full of coriander and citrus notes that continue on to a cloudy, hazy pour. The flavor profile is pure Belgian wit: rich coriander and citrus culminating in a dry, pale finish. The result is a true to style wit that’s as refreshing as it is flavorful. It’s already one of the best in town.
Celis’ other two mainline beers are the Pale Bock and the Citrus Grandis East Coast IPA. The bock is Shiner kicked up three notches. Caramel and roasted malt dominate the up-front flavor and resulting linger. On the flip side, the IPA maintains a hazy, protein-laden appearance and blooms with tropical, citrusy flavors throughout. The main three all belong in the same family: bright, full-bodied, and refreshing.
At the time of this writing, the brewery has a hop-forward West Coast IPA on tap, as well as a number of Uncle Billy’s beers available. Celis partnered with Uncle Billy’s to assist in producing some of the latter’s classics in a brand new, state of the art facility. With the capacity to brew 50,000 barrels of beer yearly, the Celis production space is nearly future-proof.
Family and the Future
And the future is nothing but bright. In August 2017, Celis will launch its main line of beer in bottle form, with cans coming in September. September will also bring the famous Grand Cru, one of Pierre Celis’ original recipes. Looking farther down the calendar, the 2018 timeline includes a raspberry ale, abbey ale, and working brewing museum celebrating Celis’ rich history.
In the end, that’s what Celis Brewery is all about: honoring decades of family-brewed beer. Chatting with each team member, from Christine Celis’ daughter, Daytona (also brewer), to her son, Gil (the taproom’s lead barman), a constant theme recurs: everyone involved has a special connection to the rebirth of Celis Brewery.
With the reopening on Metric off 183, Austin’s first local brewery is returning to a vibrant scene it helped create almost 30 years ago. By making historic beer with old fashioned recipes, Celis Brewery is poised to show Austin’s craft beer young bloods how it was done back in the old days. And by adding a special ingredient, familial devotion, the Celis story promises to continue for years to come.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Do you have fond memories of the original Celis Brewery? Share them in a comment!
Disclosure: Beer, tasting, and tour of Celis Brewery were provided free of charge for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.