This piece was written for the Syracuse New Times in June of 1997.
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On a recent sultry summer evening in Armory Square, the city’s malterati gathered at the Blue Tusk to welcome Pierre Celis, the Belgian brewer who saved the Witbier style and whose Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, brews Celis White, a quenching wheat beer with notes of coriander, curacao and orange peel. The citrusy classic was the perfect choice for the warm weather, and Celis was the perfect guest, graced with a ready smile and a sincere delight in meeting the people who drink his beer.
Soft-spoken and modest in height, Celis could have been lost in the crowd had he not been the only 71-year-old man with a full head of white hair, a Flemish accent, denim shirt and bolo tie — a walking Belgian Texan.
Witbier is a unique beer style that vanished in 1955. But ten years later, Celis revived the style, made a success of his small Belgian brewery and sparked a revival in wheat beers that thrived worldwide. In 1990, Celis moved his brewery to Austin, where the water and wheat are excellent matches for those of Hoegaarden. Today, Celis lives in Belgium and his Texas brewery is in the capable hands of the next generation, his daughter and son-in-law.
While in Syracuse, Celis also visited Middle Ages Brewing, Clark’s Ale House, and the Empire Brewing Company, where he sampled the beers, dined and toured the brew house. Another dignitary might have been content to comment on the beauty of the polished copper, but Celis is every inch a brewer; he mounted the catwalk and stuck his head right into the brew kettle.
To cap the evening, Celis mingled with the crowd at the Blue Tusk, speaking with everyone who was interested in beer and brewing. In addition to the Celis White on tap, the acolytes were able to sample the draft version of Celis Raspberry, plus bottled versions of the more assertive Celis Dubbel, an abbey-style Belgian ale, and Celis Gran Cru, a Champagne among beers.
The Celis visit marks the second time the Blue Tusk has hosted an authentic brewing hero. In October of 1996, England’s Michael Jackson, author of The World Guide to Beer, stopped by and pronounced the Tusk “a great beer bar.”