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SA author chronicles life of Belgian brewer and Texas beer pioneer Pierre Celis

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San Antonio beer writer Jeremy Banas with his new book, ‘Celis Beer: Born in Belgium, Brewed in Texas.’ Courtesy photo

With about 7,000 breweries in the U.S., there are plenty of crazy beer names, brewery names and gimmicky promotions. There might be a good anecdote for any of those, but few would require a whole book to tell the tale.

Celis beer is the rare exception. Pierre Celis, the founder of Austin’s first microbrewery, not only gave the capital city a beer it could call its own in the early years of the U.S. brewing revolution, but also was lauded in Belgium and in brewing circles around the world as the man who saved a nearly extinct variety of the Belgian witbier that is now internationally known.

In his newest book “Celis Beer: Born in Belgium, Brewed in Texas” (Arcadia Publishing/The History Press, 2021), San Antonio beer writer Jeremy Banas goes back more than 100 years to tell the tale of witbier in Belgium, its near disappearance and revival in the 1,000-year-old town of Hoegaarden in the 1960s and how it turned the Texas beer scene on its head in the 1990s.

(Find information about book signings here: https://www.facebook.com/CelisBeerBook).

Banas spent years talking to Celis’ daughter, Christine Celis, exploring her father’s legacy and the beer that came with it when Celis Brewing reopened in Austin in 2017 after a 16-year hiatus.

You can learn more at https://www.celisbeers.com/.

Celis Brewing, which had sold half of the company to then-Miller Brewing Co. to gain access to its distributor relationships, was growing along with the entire Texas craft-beer movement. But Miller soon exercised its option to buy out the other half of Celis, shut it down and by 2001 sold off the parts including the equipment, the rights to the name and the brewing equipment.

Celis’ signature witbier Celis White, the Grand Cru, are now back on the shelves along with new styles from master brewers alongside Daytona Camps, the granddaughter of Pierre Celis, who died in April 2011.

Banas goes deep into the life of all aspects of Celis, including a research trip to Belgium. He says his favorite story from the interview he did in the Flanders region came from Pierre’s widow, Juliette.

She did not want her husband to return to brewing after his previous employer Tomsin’s brewery closed and was happy to have him run the family dairy farm. But the pressure was on by the villagers of Hoegaarden to bring back their beloved witbier with barley, wheat, orange peel and coriander.

They thought Pierre Celis might know Tomsin’s secret.

He carefully had observed Tomsin and eventually was able to dial in the recipe with equipment cobbled together in a barn. Soon, villagers were showing up with milk jugs to fill with beer at the dairy farm. Juliette Celis said she was none the wiser, even though the everyone else knew what was going on and had made their way to the farm for a fill-up at some point.

This is Banas’ third book. He previously tackled the rich history of San Antonio-born Pearl beer and (full disclosure) penned a book on the legacy of San Antonio beer with yours truly in 2015. He is pondering his next project.

There have been several book signings in the San Antonio and Austin areas, but perhaps the most intriguing is coming up 5-9 p.m. Friday, March 26, at Longtab Brewing Co. off Bandera Road on the Northwest Side at 4700 Timco W St., Suite 105.

Longtab will feature a selection of its Belgian-style beers, including an interpretation of the Belgian white beer. Banas will talk about the style, its champion and sign books.

For more, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/461089338579924

Travis E. Poling has written about beer and business issues in the San Antonio area and across Texas for more than three decades. He is the co-author of two books on Texas beer, including “San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint.”

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