I met Pierre Celis at the tiny brewery that bore his name when he visited Austin in the mid-nineties. This was before you could find Hoegaarden on the shelves in this country, before Allagash White, and way before Blue Moon. It was a big deal in weird and wonderful Austin when Celis Brewery opened. It was a point of pride for Austin that our water was specially selected because the chemistry matched that of Pierre's hometown of Hoegaarden, Belgium.
It was in Hoegaarden that Pierre launched the first Celis Brewery to produce a spiced wheat ale that was so well-loved in the local area. When Pierre's brewing mentor closed shop in 1955, no one brewed this type of wit bier any more. It was on the verge of extinction. Pierre started Brouwerij Celis in 1965 to revive the refreshing and popular style.
Everyone was excited when Pierre came to Austin. His voice, along with that of his daughter Christine, was all over the airwaves in many radio commercials in the mid-90s. But to meet the man in person: what a treat.
He gave a tour and talked about his brewing experiences. He described his beers as we tasted them after the tour. I never saw him after that day.
I remember later, in the late nineties, finding a pub in Belgium which had among its taps the following two side-by-side: Hoegaarden and Celis White. I did not see Celis White available anywhere else in Belgium. That was the only place I was able to do head to head taste testing of the two similar beers from the tap.
Of course, there is the whole sordid tale of woe with Miller mangling the brand after Pierre sold out. Miller eventually discontinued the brand in 2001. Then Pierre came out of retirement in 2002 to revive the brand under Michigan Brewing Co.
Through it all, Pierre Celis was a gentleman craftsman brewer who inspired many. As a matter of fact, we have a new brewery in my current town of Alexandria. Port City brews a beer called Optimal Wit, and I am having one today in honor of the man who inspired it, Pierre Celis!