If the name Pierre Celis doesn’t ring a bell, maybe his hometown will: Hoegaarden, Belgium—as in the birthplace of the beer that continues to collect trophies from here to eternity, including Best Belgian-Style White at this year’s World Beer Cup. (Hoegaarden, by the way, is now brewed by InBev, the company that just bought Anheuser-Busch. Pay attention. There will be a quiz.)
With Hoegaarden, Celis pretty much single-handedly revived white—i.e. wheat—Belgian beers in the 1960s. In the wake of selling off the brewery, Celis has bounced around, bringing beer joy to all people. One of his more recent efforts is Grotten Flemish Ale, brewed by St. Bernardus ($10.99 for 750ml at Binny’s). Wheat-colored, cloudier than Portland, and rife with an entire microbe colony of floating sediment, a pint of Grotten looks a lot like a party in a Petri dish. Those floaters are due to a second, in-bottle fermentation, also used in Champagne production, which gives the beer its flavor and its high-alcohol content of 7.7 percent. Bold, salty, and mildly wheaty with an alcoholic afterwhiff, this beer gets high ranks from me as a summer-friendly alternative to overhopped IPAs.
But here’s why I really want to talk about Pierre Celis: In between stints elsewhere, he had an all-too-short golden age in my home state of Texas, where I’m headed next week. In the 1990s, Austin was home to Celis Brewery, an endeavor that, to beer geeks, established Celis as a god of the American microbrew movement. After a few years, Celis once again moved on, selling the brewery to Miller—aka MillerCoors, the newly formed conglomerate on the verge of relocating to Chicago—which in turn handed it off to Michigan Brewing. (Hang in there. We’re almost through, and you can drink at the end.)
There’s long been talk of wooing Celis back to Texas, but even in the interim, his influence is felt and tasted all across the state. I plan to drink as many of those odes to Pierre as possible next week and report back here. In the meantime, get yourself a Grotten and thank goodness that, however briefly, America had such a beer champion to teach us how to drink. Class is dismissed.