Leveraging A Legacy To Forge A Future: Austin's Historic Celis Brewery
I initially set out on my Great Brewery Tour during the summer of 2018. With the exception of a short break that I took for a few weeks in the Fall of 2019, I've been on the road ever since.
With the start of the new decade came the start of a new leg of the tour, with the 2020 Winter Tour kicking off Friday, January 10 at Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas. It was an 18 hour drive to Austin, which I broke up over two long days. The first eight hours weren't bad, as I cruised through the familiar route through Kentucky and Tennessee to Memphis, which is a trip I've done dozens of times. Once you cross that bridge into Arkansas, though, it's a long, dreary trip for quite a ways.
I've only "been to" Arkansas once before, when I visited Memphis in the spring of '95 to see the Grateful Dead at the Pyramid. We took a wrong turn and crossed the bridge Arkansas, and took another wrong term and ended up some shantytown along the Mississippi, where someone took a swing at my brother with a broken beer bottle and just barely missed his face (he said he felt the breeze of the bottle as it passed). I remember sitting at the wheel of his 4Runner, windows down, my college buddy Bruce riding shotgun, when I started hearing someone yelling. I looked in the mirror and saw my brother sprinting towards us, kicking up clouds of dust on this backwoods dirt road, screaming "start the truck! start the truck!!!" with some hilljack on his tail.... So I started the truck, started slowly rolling, and nailed it as he jumped in. 5 minutes later we were back in the safe haven of a Grateful Dead-invaded Memphis. My next visit to Arkansas was on this night, crossing the bridge from Memphis a little before midnight, I think.
There's not a lot of color on this route this time of year... just miles and miles of grey brush and plains... hour after hour of scenery that looks like the world before color film.The rest of the trip to Austin is long and rather dull.... passing through Little Rock, Texarkana, Dallas, Waco (which I'll be playing this Friday), and then finally into the Texas progressive cultural Oasis of Austin.
Celis has a history that goes back to Belgium, where Pierre Celis revived the witbier style under his Hoegaarden brand (which he later sold to Belgian giant Interbrew, which now is Anheuser-Busch Inbev). The Celis name has continued on in the U.S. Under various owners, maintaining the Celis witbier legacy, and winning a wealth of brewing awards along the way. It is no exageration to say that it was Celis that turned the U.S. on to the witbier style, paying the way for its mainstream acceptance and beers like Blue Moon, etc. In recent years the name and rights to the recipes were retained by Pierre's daughter, who opened up a 50,000 barrel brewery, taproom, and music venue, known today as Celis Brewery.
Celis Brewery - Austin, TX
Celis beers are distributed throughout Texas in drinking establishments and retail outlets.
It's kinda funny, because Belgian wheats are more or less the only variety of beer that I'm not wild about, so their flagship wasn't exactly my cup of beer (although everyone else I spoke to said it was unbelievably great). The good news (for me, at least) is that their other brews were all equally as great.
The brewery itself is a large building in a neighborhood on the northern side of Austin. Much of the building is the brewery, and the taproom is a very cool space on one side... two story ceilings with a balcony around the perimeter, cool stonework walls, and a very cool round bar in the middle of the taproom that is made out of a giant brass beer kettle vat.
The stage area was pretty cool, with curtains and a curtain made of 45s hanging as a backdrop (see photo).
The bar staff and customers were very enthusiastic about the music, and I had some great conversations during setbreak about music that went pretty deep into what most would consider pretty obscure music, but actually went right to my sweet spots of interest. It was pretty wild.
My first drink of the night was the Bat Bridge (4.7%) Black Currant Berliner Weisse. A sour, it had an almost raspberry flavor, but crisp and sour, very refreshing. I purposefully chose it to start with as I was pretty thirsty, and the pint was quite enjoyable and did a great job of satisfying my thirst.
During my set break I enjoyed one that I spotted on the list earlier and was looking forward to... the Tangerine Mazimus (7.2%), a new New England (hazy) IPA brewed with Azacca and Motuera hops. Hazy and juicy, it was more hops-forward than I expected for a New England, but balanced really well with the tangerine, for a wonderful full-bodied IPA that gave you the hoppiness an IPA lover would want, coupled with a refreshing citrus juiciness that made it a very enjoyable drink. I could have continued on with these all night.
The Dubbel Coffee Porter (7%) is a concoction so unique that I'm going to borrow the brewery's own description of it: “Christine Celis, daughter of world-renowned Belgian brewmaster Pierre Celis, along with Uncle Billy's brewery and Austin Java, introduce the world's first dubbel coffee porter. true to the gypsy tradition, this unique beer is crafted in small batches that will last only a short while. This beautifully rich beer features dark caramel malt and a distinctly Belgian dubbel yeast. The effect is a robust yet smooth, deep chestnut-colored porter with demure chocolate undertones from the infusion of organic, cold-pressed Guatemalan and Peruvian coffees.”
I found the Coffee Porter to be perhaps a little lighter in body than many porters, with the coffee very up front in the flavor, and the porter relying more heavily on the malt molasses undertones than the nuttiness that you might expect in a porter. A good drink, but definitely one that leans more towards the coffee lover than the porter traditionalist... so if you're into bold darker coffee infused beers, this one's for you.
The crowd was very friendly, and the surroundings very comfortable and welcoming, especially if you're looking for a great watering hole somewhat removed from the more carnival-like sections of Austin.
Next stop, Alamo Beer Company in San Antonio....