Brewing legend Pierre Celis, the man credited with reviving the Belgian Witbier style and paving the way for it's popularity world wide, died yesterday in Belgium at age 86.
Celis founded his first brewery in the town of Hoegaarden in 1966. Hoegaarden was once a center of wheat beer brewing, and the small town had over 30 breweries in the mid 1800's, all producing versions of a unique beer made from local wheat and oats, and often spiced with exotic ingredients like coriander and curacao orange peel. As with many local specialty beer styles, the popularity of Pilsener-style beers and the advent of large industrial breweries took its toll on the Hoegaarden brewers, and the last of the wheat beer breweries closed there in the mid-1950's. That may have been the end of the style if Celis had not decided to start up a brewery dedicated to reproducing the local Witbier that older townsfolk reminisced about. It quickly became a huge success. After a fire at the brewery in 1985, Celis sold the brand to Interbrew (now Anheuser Busch-Inbev) who continues to produce beer under the Hoegaarden name as one of their core products.
Celis then set is sights on the US craft beer market, and founded the Celis brewery in Austin, Texas in 1992, introducing many in the US to the Wit Bier style for the first time. The brand had a cult following but struggled financially, and in 1995 it was sold to Miller. It is now brewed by the Michigan Brewing Company.
More recently, Celis was brewing cave aged beers under the Grottenbier label.
On this warm, summer-like day, enjoy a refreshing Witbier in Pierre Celis' memory, and thank him for allowing us to continue enjoying this great style of beer.