“King of Belgian White Beer” dies at 86.
To most his name itself probably doesn’t mean much, but to the true beer enthusiasts and certainly to those in the craft beer industry, his influence has almost assuredly had an impact. Celis is widely considered one of the forbearers of the craft-brewing movement in America. His self-named brewery operated in Austin from the mid-1990s to 2001.
Celis, a longtime milkman, did not start making beer until he was 40. He started in a cowshed. He was born in Hoegaarden, Belgium, and founded the beer named after his hometown in 1966. Hoegaarden had been without a witbier brewery, a specialty in the area, for 11 years. Though the wheat beer style had been a Belgian staple since the 1400s, Celis was widely considered to have reignited the declining popularity of the beer style.
In 1987, a fire gutted the Hoegaarden brewery. With no insurance, Celis took loans from other breweries, the largest of which, Artois (Stella Artois) ended up with a share in the business. After Artois was sold to InBev, Celis faced pressure to increase sales dramatically and make a more marketable beer. Instead, he sold the brewery altogether and moved his operations to Austin, Texas.
By the mid-1990s he was again brewing Celis Beer, and making a name for himself as one of the early leaders of the American craft beer movement. But his investors decided to sell to Miller Brewing in 2000, soon closing the brewery, and then sold the brand name to Michigan Brewing Company.