Not many brewers have the experience of Belgian Brewmaster Pierre Celis. Then again, most brewers are not 80 years old! Celis was born in 1925 in Hoegaarden, Belgium, a land rich with brewing tradition. In his 20’s, he apprenticed at the local Tomsin brewery – famous for its spiced “wit bier” or white beers which originated in
the region. However, as Lager beers became increasingly popular, specialty and wheat beer breweries closed at an alarming rate. In 1955 the Tomsin brewery which had brewed these local favorites for 97 years, was the last of the wit bier breweries to acquiesce, closing its doors forever.
In the summer of 1965, Celis was driven by the wants of his countrymen, and the words of Louis Tomsin after the brewery shut down: do not forget what you learned about brewing the white beer of our village.” In 1966 he and a friend started brewing in Celis’ backyard, using at times his wife's copper wash tub, and eventually opening the Brouwerij De Kluis in Hoegaarden.
Pierre worked at the brewery until 1985 when fire ravaged the facility, completely destroying it. With insufficient insurance money to rebuild on his own, he entered into an agreement with Stella Artois (today known as Interbrew), and a new De Kluis brewery was constructed. In 1990 the company requested Celis make ingredient revisions” in order to lower production costs. Pierre was staunchly opposed but had little choice. Not wanting to be responsible for changes he felt would hurt his craft brews, he sold his remaining stake in the brewery, severing his relationship with the company.
In 1991, Celis brought his brewing mastery to Austin, Texas, seeking to contribute to the American beer renaissance of the late 80’s & 90’s. When his Belgian-style ales couldn't keep the $11 million brewery afloat, he turned to Miller for financial backing, ultimately selling 50% of his stake with an option to buy back in three years. Pierre however, was unable to buy Miller out and turned the entire brewery over to them. In turn, Miller sunk the Celis line. As if churning out lousy beer wasn't enough, right?
The Austin brewery lay dormant until 2002 when the Michigan Brewing Company (MBC) purchased the equipment and the Celis line. With Pierre’s blessing, they’ve brought back the Celis brews to rave reviews, bringing home the Gold medal at the 2003 Great American Beer Festival for Celis White, the original “wit bier” Celis himself resurrected nearly 40 years earlier! We tip our hats to the MBC for bringing these fine beers back to life and adding another chapter to their eventful history.