Sometimes life plays hard games but there are some people from nowhere and without any background who have life showing them the way to success. Examples are many. Other times, the successes have been accompanied by fame and money, others with simple satisfaction and recognition, perhaps after death. Our story is about a simple man who loved beer, working as a milkman, but his desire to revive his favourite style of beer in his region led him to become a brewer.
To this man we owe the fact that we drink the famous Belgian Hoegaarden today. The beer used to be produced by monks in Hoegaarden, east of Brussels, for many centuries, from about 1318.The town was famous for the beer style being produced there and were quite popular until the raise of Lager, which led to the closure of the last active witbeer brewery. In 1957 the Tomsin Brewery (Brouwerij Tomsin), closes and with it the flow of Belgian White stops.
A few years ago, a young man from the area, born in 1925, named Celia Pierre, was semi-employed at the brewery. In 1960, three years after the last operation of the brewery, Celis along with few friends, missed their favourite beer. Nothing could prevent him to start producing the recipe he remembered from his youth. A recipe that had worked many times. It started in his father’s barn. He made a trial beer, as he remembered it, he added Curacao and coriander and the result was the beer we all know today. In 1966, he set up his own brewery (Brouwerij Celis), with used machines with of 25 hl. Later he moved the brewery in an old refreshments factory. He gave to his beer the name of his home town, Hoegaarden. Eleven years after the last drop of Witbier, the city had again something to drink.
With methodical work and love, production grew and the demand too. The business was going well (300,000 hectolitres per year) until 1985 when a sudden fire destroyed the brewery. Without any funds to reconstruct, Celis received funding from Interbrew, and he continued the production (the Interbrew is now the world mighty Anheuser-Busch InBev). In 1990, the beers recipe was acquired by the giant. Celis travelled to America where in 1992 he founded (for a second time), the Celis Brewery, in Austin. He was 67 years old!
In the U.S. he produced exactly the same beer named Celis White. Of course, the activity was not focused in one type of beer, he produced other styles too. Unfortunately, the brewery was not financially back on track as previously in Belgium. The quality of the products brought another giant in their door. In 1995, Miller Brewing Company (now Miller Coors) acquired the majority of the brewery. In 2001, Miller closed the brewery and sold the rights of Celis beers in Michigan Brewing Company.
In 1999, Celis worked with Grottenbier, to produce beers with his name, launching “Pierre Celis Signature Series”. The beers aged in caves in Riemst, Belgium. The milkman in profession and an amateur brewer originally lived in Hoegaarden until April 9, 2011, where he died at the age of 86. He was born on March 21, 1925, from a farming family. Until his death, he participated in brewing demonstrations, seminars and led the Brewers union in Hoegaarden.
So if you like and the Belgian Hoegaarden Witbier now know who you owe it’s production today…
Merci beaucoup monsieur Pierre Celis