From the HBD Archive
From: grumpy!cr@uunet.UU.NET (C.R. Saikley)
Subject: Wit Beers in Texas?
Date: 1992-07-08 21:29:11 GMT

There is an interesting story behind how Belgian beer came to be brewed
in Texas, where the Celis brewery in Austin has recently come to market with
its products. Mr. Celis formerly brewed in Belgium, and was too successful
for his own good.

In previous times, the eastern part of Brabant province was a major brewing
center. It is here that we find the town of Hoegaarden (pronounced who-garden),
whose brewing heritage goes back at least as far as the 1300's, and probably
farther. Hoegaarden was known for its Wit beers.

Belgian Wit beers are light refreshing brews made with about 50% unmalted
wheat and 50% malted barley. Sometimes a small portion of raw oats is added.
The beers are very pale, and given a milky appearance by a highly non-flocculant
yeast strain. They are very lightly hopped, but often spiced with coriander
and orange peels. They are popular summer drinks.

The usual market forces and two world wars caused a decline in the importance
of this region as a brewing center. Smaller breweries were closing, consumption
of mass marketed Pils was on the rise and by the mid 1950's, the last brewer of
Wit beers was defunct. The style appeared to be extinct.

Pieter Celis had lived near an old brewery that produced Wit beers, and
felt that the style could be revived. Acting on that idea, he purchased
equipment from a defunct brewery, and in 1966 his De Kluis brewery started
making Hoegaarden Wit beer. Much to Celis' surprise, the beer was extremely
popular, especially among younger drinkers. Soon he was unable to keep up
with demand and the so the brewery was expanded.

In order to finance the expansion, Celis sought an investor to take on as
a partner. The two owned equal shares of the brewery with Celis being the
more active partner. A period of phenomenal growth ensued. Wit beers were
becoming more and more popular, and Celis was doubling his production on
an annual basis.

The growth rate proved to be too extreme, and it was hard to make ends meet.
This may be hard to picture for those not close to the business world, but
too much growth places excessive strain on a business' resources. For example,
if this year's malt bill is twice as much as last year's, and the money
available to pay this year's bills is based on last year's production, then
it's tough to cover expenses.

This is exactly what happened, and the De Kluis brewery was unable to make
payments to their supplier of malt. Mr. Celis made a deal with the head
of the malthouse whereby the maltster would get shares of the brewery instead
of cash payments. What Celis didn't know was that the maltster (appropriately
named Mr. Wolf) had ties to brewing giant Interbrew.

It seems that the little brewery had been too successful in reviving a style,
and had attracted the attention of the big guys. Soon Mr. Wolf's shares were
in Interbrew's hands, and they were busy courting De Kluis' investment
partner as well. When the partner sold out, Mr. Celis found himself to be
the minority shareholder in the brewery he founded. Interbrew felt they no
longer needed Celis around, and squeezed him out of the business. His success
was his own downfall.

The revival of Wit beers has continued, and they are very popular in cafes
all over Belgium today. Even cafes with very modest beer selections typically
offer a Wit beer. As a result, many other breweries around the country have
capitalized on this and started brewing their own Wits. It has become a very
trendy style of beer, and is now eschewed by hard core beer fans as no longer
being the noble beverage it once was. Readers in Oregon may see a similarity
to the Widmer Hefeweizen phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Mr. Celis decided that he'd had enough of his battles with
Interbrew. Like so many Europeans before him, he has sought refuge in
the US. He's brewing in Austin and his beers are available there. They
will soon become available in California, and other selected markets.
Let's hope he's not *too* successful this time.

Cheers,
CR


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