Saturday, April 23, 2011

R.I.P., Pierre Celis.

It’s hard to resist an elegiac tone when considering the generational transition occurring within Craft Beer Nation.

Among others, Michael Jackson, Greg Noonan and Don Younger have passed away in recent years.

Pete’s Wicked Ale no longer exists, and Goose Island is owned outright by AB-Inbev.

Fritz Maytag sold Anchor, and Mishawaka Brewing has closed shop.

Pierre Celis also has died. He was the obscure, largely untrained Belgian champion of Wit, who began brewing Hoegaarden almost 50 years ago, rescuing the style from oblivion. In turn, Celis the Belgian was championed by Jackson the Englishman in the latter’s early and revolutionary beer texts. We’re richer for both their efforts.

Having sold Hoegaarden and made one fortune, Celis provided the founding family of Goose Island with a template for retirement, which is to say, he did not, instead relocating from Europe to Austin, Texas, and founding an eponymous microbrewery. There he introduced Americans to the concept of Wit.

Having proven his point, Celis cashed out a second time (Miller bought his brewery and tossed it in a nearby trash can; fortunately, the brands live on, as brewed in Michigan), went back to Belgium, and spent his dotage creating interesting new beery concepts (Grotten) and in general, just being himself.

Several of us met him at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in the mid- to late-1990s. My recollection is entirely positive. Celis was personable, friendly and willing to have a beer with us. Somewhere there is a photograph.

Here’s to Pierre Celis … clink … and here’s a link to a good essay about his life.

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