The story of Celis White has all the trappings of a sweeping cinematic epic. There's a lone genius and his long-shot rise to fame. There's the evil empire that seeks only to consolidate its power. There's loss and turmoil. There's redemption. Then ... more loss. There's a lost family secret and — now — a triumphant return.
I don't think I ever tasted Celis back in its original Austin iteration; the original Celis brewery shuttered in 2000, a few years before I hit legal drinking age. That doesn't mean I hadn't tasted Celis. The story is a bit circuitous but, more or less, Hoegaarden is Celis. Both are Witbier, a regional Belgian style that had been on the precipice of extinction before Pierre Celis started brewing Hoegaarden back in the early '70s. A few years and several acquisitions later, Ab-InBev owned Hoegaarden and Pierre opened Celis in Austin.
The same tale repeated itself stateside, with Celis achieving a strong following before it was sold for boozy parts, winding up in Michigan and out of reach of most Texans. So beloved was the beer that, in the early days of big beer's craft land grab, many beer lovers gave Hoegaarden a get out of jail free card despite its major label sponsors.
There have been whispers of a return since at least 2012, when Christine Celis, Pierre's daughter, re-acquired rights to the name. And there was much rejoicing. Last summer, the beer returned to Austin. Now, it's in Houston.
You've had beers like Celis. We all have. Miller-Coors has its Celis simulacra in Blue Moon, AB-InBev in Shock Top. Don't take these for standard bearers. They are not.
Celis White pours a lovely, pale gold. It's hazy, in a pleasant and slightly languid-seeming way. Like when you're at home in the middle of the day and just sort of lounging on the sofa, nothing to do, free to linger on the edge of consciousness for a bit. A fluffy white head sticks around for a good while, slowly receding the a sticky cap as you drink down the glass.
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Aromas of clove, orange peel, coriander and peppery spice and just a bare whiff of soapiness pop from the glass as you pour (the soap blows off quickly). Overall, it's peppery, bright and lightly floral. There's something akin to the subtly dusky aroma underneath the first jolt of a noseful of honeysuckle.
The first sip comes across as clean, clear, practically ringing. There's a fine carbonation in the mouth that keeps the creamy-ish body feeling sprightly. Overall, it's superbly crisp. Mild floral notes, a whole lotta citrus, and plenty off complimentary spice notes. It's very easy-going, with a lot going on but extremely well balanced, closing moderately dry and just barely leaning toward tart. It's the kind of beer you can drink casually or intently, finding value in either mode. It's the kind of beer that just screams out for warm weather, a lawn and a chair suited to its occupation.
Really, it's kind of a line by line drink-through of the BJCP guidelines for Witbier. This makes sense, given that the original Celis is essentially the archetype for modern iterations of the style. With the current trend toward experimental and avant garde beers, it may be a bit of a contrarian opinion to prize fidelity to a decidedly denotative interpretation, but that's exactly what this beer does, and it's a very good thing that it does.
I may have missed Celis in its first form, but I'm glad it's back in its current one. I hear they're even putting it in cans, now. Which only serves to increase the likelihood that it's going to be my go-to beer for the upcoming summer. I'll play the movie in my head while I drink it.