Six degrees of Pierre Celis

Celis White

Total Beverage Solution, a South Carolina-based company known first as an importer, announced Tuesday that it has acquired the Celis beer brand.

So the Celis brand, which originated when Pierre Celis opened the Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, in 1992, has been owned by Celis, Miller Brewing, Michigan Brewing, a company called CraftBev International, Inc., and now Total Beverage. In the United States.

Before starting his Texas brewery Celis founded the one that revived the defunct white beer style, first calling it Brouwerij Celis, then De Kluis and finally Hoegaarden. He sold that to brewing giant Artois, which was acquired by Interbrew, which merged with AmBev to form InBev, the company which later bought Anheuser-Busch, the result being A-B InBev.

That’s why in “Brewing With Wheat” I asked: “Where would you start looking for the ‘real’ Celis White? In the town of Hoegaarden, where Celis first brewed his Blanche Bier? In Weberville, Michigan, because Michigan Brewing Company bought the Celis brand from Miller Brewing and has won several awards with its Celis White? In Ertvelde. Belgium, where Brouwerij Van Steenberge brews Celis White for sale in the rest of the world? In Watou, where Celis consulted in developing the recipe for Saint Bernardus Wit?”

Nothing like a small family business that is passed down from one generation to the next.

So now we await the next chapter, and based on the past it is bound to be somehow different than we might expect. “We are currently considering a number of options for brewing, and we plan to reintroduce the brand to market by mid-2014,” Total Beverage CEO Dave Pardue said for a press release announcing the deal. Last year Total Beverage acquired the Humboldt/Nectar Ale brands from Firestone Walker. Firestone Walker continues to brew those for Total Beverage, which does not have a brewery. The company will have to find another brewery to make Celis beers.

A little over a year ago, CraftBev International bought the brand when the assets of the Michigan Brewing Company were auctioned off. At the time, founder Sushil Tyagi said: “I have been building a brewery with the Celis family. We’ve already been building the distribution network. We’re making all the plans for marketing and branding. This (brand name repurchase) is just the one missing piece.” Instead CraftBev ended up selling the brand to Total Beverage.

Emails to Tyagi and Christine Celis, Pierre’s daughter, asking what happened have gone unanswered. Expect an update explaining if they are. What is known is that Celis meanwhile rolled out the first of what she says will be a series of “Gypsy Collaboration” beers.

While we await the next press release from Total Beverage Solution, a quick recap:

1957 - The Tomsin Brewery in Hoegaarden closed. At its peak in 1758 the town of Hoegaarden supported 38 breweries.

1965 - Listening to others lament the loss of the brewery and the once ubiquitous white beer style, Celis wrote in his memoir, he started thinking about opening a brewery.

1966 - (March 13, in fact) Pierre Celis brewed his first official batch of Oud Hoegaards Bier.

1978 - Celis he changed the name of his brewery to De Kluis.

1985 - A fire gutted De Kluis, which was disastrous for Celis because he carried little insurance. He sold a majority stake in the company to brewing giant Artois, and in 1990 sold the rest.

1992 - Celis founded the Celis Brewery. That year Celis White won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, and the next three years it won two more golds and a silver.

1995 - Miller Brewing bought a stake in the Celis Brewery.

2000 - Pierre Celis sold the rest of the business to Miller in April. Miller closed the brewery by the end of the year.

2002 - Michigan Brewing Co. in Weberville, Mich., acquired the Celis Brewery equipment from Miller, including the 100-barrel brewhouse, tanks, packaging equipment, office equipment, lab equipment and everything else down to the janitorial supplies.

2012 - The assets of Michigan Brewing were auctioned off, and in 2013 the company filed for bankruptcy.

(The photo at the top was taken at Brouwerij Van Steenberge outside of Ghent. The De Smet brewery originally brewed Celis White for distribution on Belgium, but when Heineken bought the brewery in 1999 Celis went looking for a new partner. “He said, ‘I can’t accept my beer would be produced by Heineken.’ If you can work with Pierre Celis, the godfather of white beer, you must,” Jeff Versele of Van Steenberge said. Celis White amounts to a small portion of what the brewery makes, but it is sold far afield, including places like Japan.)

7 Responses to Six degrees of Pierre Celis

  1. Fred Frey December 12, 2013 at 2:57 am #

    Seems as though there was some sort of breakup between Christine and Sushil. Only on Nov 1 Christine was interviewed in the Austin Chronicle in regards to impending release of new Celis beer. On Nov 25th Sushil’s CraftBev sells the rights. I wrote to TBS about this:

    “We recognize that some information reported by the press previously regarding Christine Celis’s involvement with the “Celis” brand was not accurate. Currently we have no affiliation with Christine Celis LLC. “

  2. SteveH December 12, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    I still remember my first Hoegaarden, sometime back in the late 80s at an “ahead-of-its-time” local beer bar.

    I remember thinking, “What a different flavor, I like this a lot.” So many Wits have jumped on the bandwagon since, but I’ve never found them as good as that first one.

    I’ll have to revisit the brand sometime this summer for old-time’s sake.

  3. Stan Hieronymus December 12, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Steve – Look for Allagash White, also Boulevard ZON (but that one is a seasonal, so file away the thought until summer).

    • SteveH December 12, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Oh yeah — I’ve had the Allagash before and know it’s a good one, and Ommegang’s.

      I saw the ZON this past summer, but didn’t grab it up because I’ve become skeptical on most Wits anymore. On your recommendation I’ll look for it in 6 months.

      • Fred Frey December 12, 2013 at 10:32 am #

        Yes, Allagash white is very nice – I prefer Ommegang Hennepin (though more of a Saison then a wit). It’s very refreshing on a hot day.

        • SteveH December 12, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

          Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s an Ommegang beer I don’t like.

  4. Jeff Erway December 13, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    How great would it be if they could convince Firestone to brew the beer? Nudge nudge….