Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 2, No. 23
Celis Brewery finds a home

March 14, 2002

Michigan Brewing Co. in Weberville, Mich., has acquired the Celis Brewery equipment from Miller Brewing, including the 100-barrel brewhouse, tanks, packaging equipment, office equipment, lab equipment and everything else down to the janitorial supplies.


Twenty-seven semi tractor-trailer trucks delivered the equipment from Austin, Texas, this week. Now that Michigan Brewing has bought the famous brewery lock, stock and barrel, many beer drinkers would like to it acquire the Celis brand, still owned by Miller. When Miller closed the brewery 15 months ago, a spokeswoman said: "There are still (sales) negotiations taking place. We're hoping the brand will be kept alive and that we can sell, if not the complete package, the trademark."

In other words, there is hope.

Pierre Celis, who revived the "white" style of beer in his native Belgium before selling the Hoegaarden brewery to Interbrew, established the Texas brewery in 1992. His beers, including Celis White, quickly earned a cult following.

Miller bought a majority stake in the Celis Brewery in 1995. It purchased the Celis family's minority interest in the business in April of 2000 and closed the brewery by year's end.

"For a big, big brewer like Miller, it's hard to sell special beer," Pierre Celis said at the time. "Special beer you sell more like wine, from the color or the taste and the aroma.... The quality was good. Every year we had gold medals, silver medals."

Michigan Brewing has proved it knows how to sell craft beer. It is the fifth largest brewery in the state with a capacity near 6,000 barrels. Its Renaissance Spelt Ale has attracted particular attention. The beer is made with 100% Michigan organically grown spelt. Spelt is a primitive form of wheat that produces a beer people with allergies to barley and wheat can enjoy without allergic reaction.

"It was Hildegard of Bingen, the Nun who wrote about hops in the 12th century, who alerted the world in her writings that spelt was the most wholesome food grain on the face of the earth," Halfpenny said. "So we made beer with it."

The "new-old" brewery itself is beautiful, a 100-barrel copper dome kettle and mash/lauter tun built before World War II and used only briefly before the war. The equipment sat unused about 50 years before Pierre Celis bought it and moved the brewery to Austin. Michigan Brewing is just the third owner of the "low mileage vintage gem."

Michigan Brewing will install the brewery in a new and larger facility, and plans to have the new equipment online later this year. The Belgian white style, also known as Wit, will be a large part of its future. The equipment trucked to Michigan included a coriander mill, to grind one of the spices that make wheat beer so distinctive.

"How many breweries do you know of that have a mill dedicated to coriander?" Halfpenny asked.

Only one that's been to Belgium, Texas and Michigan.

Pairing of the week

Corned beef and cabbage and stout, of course. A solid stout should be able to take on the strong flavors, salt and spiciness of corned beef.

Tasting notes

From The Celebrator Beer News Blind Tasting Panel

The original stout still tastes best on draft. It delivers the best head of the bunch, thick and creamy with the strongest, smoothest flavors. Clean, as an Irish stout should taste.

Crisp and tart with good balance, this tasty stout also boasts subtle hints of licorice and chocolate.

A completely different recipe from the other available Guinness stout, the bottled version tastes dry and bitter with a sharp, crisp finish.

Fairly dry with clean, decent flavors, but slightly over-tart and a little thin tasting.

Nitro stout lingers on the tongue with good Irish character and a nice, long aftertaste that won't quit.