Belgian brewing royalty revives her father’s legacy in Austin

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Christine Celis in brouwerij Stoopkensstraat 007_259404

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a non-descript two-story flooring company facility in North Austin, a Belgian family’s brewing legacy will carry on thanks to the determination of a woman who says brewing is “a part of her being.”

This week, Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks, founded by Christine Celis, along with Detroit-based Atwater Brewery, announced it acquired a property at the corner of Metric Boulevard and Rutland Drive to start a new brewery that will brew authentic Belgian beers along with innovative beer styles.

For those who don’t know, Chistine comes from brewing royalty. Christine’s father, Pierre Celis, started brewing commercially in 1966 in his hometown of Hoegaarden, Belgium. You might have seen the bottles of Hoegaarden witbier on store shelves-that type beer was revived from obscurity by Pierre.

The brewery, which started in the family’s farmhouse, was a family affair. “I remember as a child growing up with my dad, I had to so much love and interest in the beer industry,” says Christine.

In 1998, Pierre sold his brewery to Interbev (now AB InBev) and decided to bring his unique brewing expertise to the U.S., specifically Austin.

Prior to moving to Austin, Pierre visited numerous times for business and while here, he realized the water was similar to Hoegaarden’s and that there was a void in the brewing scene. But the key element on why he chose Texas: “They speak slowly so I can understand them,” says a smiling Christine of her dad’s relocation choice.

In 1992, the father and daughter duo opened Celis Brewery in Austin. During the 90s, Christine helped grow the company by establishing distribution agreements and organizing promotional events at the brewery.

Jason Davis, brewing director at Freetail Brewing Company in San Antonio, got into the pro-brew scene in 1996 and worked at Celis Brewery from 1998-2000. Even though Pierre was splitting his time between Belgium and Austin, Davis says when he was in town, he was “always very friendly-convivial even-and always with a smile on his face.”

At the time, the opening of Celis Brewery created a mini-renaissance for local craft beer. “Celis opened right before the laws changed to allow for brewpubs. A lot of breweries popped up then and it was great to have an experienced, world-renowned brewery in town. They were very friendly and helpful with technical advice and assistance,” remembers Davis.

The family decided to sell the company to Miller Brewing Company in 2000, which proceeded to shut the plant down one year later. Christine believes Miller Brewing Company didn’t understand the uniqueness of owning and operating a smaller beer brand.

In 2002, the Celis brand was acquired by Michigan Brewing Company, but when the company foreclosed, the name was sold to Craftbev, which turned around and sold the brand to Total Beverage Solution in 2013. Because the Celis name is currently in use and beer is being made with that name, Christine says she cannot legally use it.

A New Chapter for the Celis Family

After Pierre passed away in 2011, Christine continued to make beer by collaborating with various breweries across Austin. Christine launched her Gypsy Collaboration beers in the fall of 2013, and brewed with a different brewery each time, including Adelbert’s and Uncle Billy’s.

But the idea of owning her own brewery was something she’s been feverishly working on for the past 13 years. Her perseverance has finally paid off in the form of a 27,000 square foot space. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be opening this new brewery to carry on my father’s legacy of brewing legendary beers,” says Christine.

Mark Rieth is the owner of Atwater Brewery in Detroit. (KXAN Photo/Calily Bien)

A big piece of the puzzle came together when Christine started talking with the owner of Atwater Brewing, Mark Rieth, who was already looking for a way to expand his business to the southwest.”I couldn’t be more [happy] for Christine right now…what she’s gone through. We’re just very excited to be a part of this very unique, one-of-a-kind project collaboration brewery to make world class beer with an icon from Austin,” says Rieth.

The new collaboration brewery will make both Flemish Fox and Atwater beers. The new brewery will be a 50 hectoliter brew house that can produce 60,000 barrels per year, with capacity for more. Atwater and Flemish Fox will have 16 fermenters to start with room for more growth outside. Rieth says they’ll also have the space to produce barrel aged beers.

But, the entire facility won’t be made up of new stainless steel equipment, it’ll also house Pierre’s original brewing equipment, which is currently sitting in storage near Antwerp, Belgium. Once the brewery is near completion, Christine plans on shipping the historic cast iron open mash tun, two copper kettles, open fermenter, heat exchanger and coolship. The plan is to put the equipment into a special area of the brewery that will be similar to a functional museum. To help cover the shipping costs, Flemish Fox has initiated a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

Pierre Celis in old brewery (Courtesy: Pen & Tell Us)
Brewing Equipment Description
  • Mash tun: A tank where grist is soaked in water and heated in order to convert the starch to sugar and extract the sugars and other solubles from the grist.
  • Fermenters: Used to ferment beer – commercial ones are usually cylindroconical
  • Coolship: Type of fermentation vessel that is open and flat – high surface to mass ratio, allow for more efficient cooling

“What I want to do with this building is an exact replica of the brewery in Hoegaarden,” says Christine while standing in the warehouse that is currently covered in dust. “Hoegaarden lost its history, but Austin is gaining so much more.” Christine plans on brewing on the original equipment twice a year: March 21 (her father’s birthday) and on Belgian National Holiday.

If you’re a fan of the original Celis witbier, you’re in luck-Christine plans to brew her father’s original Belgian beer recipes at the new brewery as well as incorporate some of the same yeast trains and methods her father used. Her daughter, Daytona Camps, who is currently a brewer at Uncle Billy’s, will help bring those beers back to life. “She’ll be very much involved from day one. This is for future generations. Having her as a team member means a lot to me, I’m really honored.”

Christine knows her father would have been honored to be a part of this new chapter as well. If he were around today, “He would be running around with a smile on his face every day just because of what’s happening in the whole craft beer industry,” says Christine.

Once complete, the brewery will also have a tasting room, an outdoor beer garden and retail shop. The brewery is expected to be in production by the first quarter of 2017.

The new brewery will have plenty of brewery neighbors in the area of North Burnet Road. Austin Beerworks, Adlebert’s Brewery, 4th Tap and Circle Brewing are all within a two-mile radius, and Colorado’s Oskar Blues is currently renovating a space off Metric Boulevard.

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