Pierre Celis sold his successful, but under-insured Belgium Brewery, located in Hoegaarden, Belgium, to InterBrew. Pierre then decided to build a brewery in Austin and bring his Belgium White Ale to Texas. While visiting Pierre in 1991, just before the brewery was finished, Pierre told me that he initially looked at both Austin and Portland, Oregon as potential locations in which to build his brewery. At the time, Portland’s craft beer scene was well underway, but the same was certainly not true for Texas.
To Pierre, Austin was a no brainer and he selected the capital city of Texas as the sight of his brewery. A few short years after opening, he sold the brewery to Miller Brewing. One has to wonder what would have happened to Celis had Pierre chosen Portland instead of Austin.
Miller invested in the Celis brands, but had a little success and eventually closed the brewery in 2000 and sold the brand. The craft beer market was still years from developing in Austin or even in the state of Texas. Eventfully, the Celis brands were purchased by the Michigan Brewing Co., but it, too, closed in 2012.
Christine Celis, Pierre’s daughter, gained the rights to Celis Brewery in 2017 and opened a new brewery in Austin, rapidly expanding throughout the state with both cans and kegs. Now, two years later, and after replacing all of the Celis sales staff two weeks ago Celis employees walked without being paid. If Celis sells again, the next owner(s) will be the fifth since 1991.
In recent weeks, the beer industry has seen multiple long-established craft breweries close. Just this week alone, after more than 35 years in business, Bridgeport Brewing of Portland, which is owned by Gambrinus, announced it was closing and would be laying off approximately 87 employees. Just a week earlier, Burnside Brewing of Portland also closed its doors after nine years in business. Other brewers, including Widmer Brothers and Portland Brewing, have closed their taprooms. Last year 22-year-old Almenda Brewing and Lompac, both in business for 20 years, also closed.
It might be easy to explain why Celis is having trouble or Big Bend closed, but longtime brewers like Bridgeport, present a more challenging explanation. Compare Bridgeport’s 2011 volume of over 50K bbls. to last year’s volume of just over 10K bbls. Monetizing all those GABF medals is becoming meaningless!
Pundits have long cited that the taproom and restaurant business model offers a better chance for success versus the go-to classic market model. The recent closing across the country of long-time successfully established breweries and brewpubs of both models, however, illustrates that these models, too, are also struggling. The strong will survive as the industry finally shrinks and those breweries who can find products which innovate and resonate with consumers will continue to grow.
If Celis does find a new owner, perhaps the fifth owner will make it work. Or maybe it will be the sixth owner? Pierre Celis never thought it would be this difficult to establish his beer in the U.S. as the closing of Bridgeport Brewery was not even a consideration a mere seven years ago. But then again, neither did Schlitz, Pabst, Old Style, Hamm’s, Jax, Lucky Lager, and on and on and on.
Success and failure are both parts of life. Neither is permanent.
Editors note; This post has been notified that Celis is currently still brewing beer.