Austin's Celis Brewery expected to file for bankruptcy
Public sale notice last week announced auction of Austin brand's property, equipment.
The daughter of the legendary Belgian brewer who resurrected the Belgian-style witbier from near-extinction saw her father, Pierre Celis, lose Celis Brewery more than once. Now, the reborn brand is in financial hot water.
Although the North Austin brewery's property and equipment are set to be auctioned off on July 2, according to a public sale notice published June 21 in the American-Statesman, Christine Celis gave a statement to Forbes magazine indicating that the brewery plans to declare bankruptcy the day before the pair of public auctions are scheduled to take place.
"We are operating as normal and will be filing for chapter #11 restructuring on Monday 7/1," she said in an email to Forbes. Celis did not immediately return messages left Thursday by the American-Statesman seeking comment.
One of the foreclosure auctions would sell the 22,000-square-foot building at 10001 Metric Blvd., where Celis Brewery has been operating for two years. The other auction would include the brewery's equipment "to satisfy a lien held by Amplify Credit Union," according to the public notice. But if bankruptcy is filed before the scheduled auctions, Celis might be able to restructure and continue operating — perhaps with new ownership.
A May article published by craft-beer news outlet Brewbound noted a possible sale of the brewery to an outside investor group that includes John Nelson, the owner of an Austin-based construction company.
There have been signs of financial trouble for the beer brand before now. It's not because the beer isn't selling: Celis increased production last year by 320 percent, making 11,339 barrels of beer, according to a Brewbound article. Instead, the problem was how much money Celis' parent company, FFBC Operations LLC, spent on a massive brewing operation.
"The company reportedly overspent on a 50,000-barrel brewery in northwest Austin and built financial models that required high double-digit, year-over-year growth in order to service debt," according to Brewbound.
Unable to meet those models, Celis has cut sales and production staff, and Celis president and chief operating officer Bill Mulroy was let go this spring.
In October, Celis announced that it planned to become a live music destination in North Austin with the opening of the beer garden to accommodate up to 2,000 people. But construction was never finished; there's a mobile stage and little else in the lot adjacent to the brewery where the outdoor venue was supposed to be.
Three other liens were filed against the company earlier this year for "thousands of dollars in unpaid construction and electrical work" related to the beer garden and other updates around the brewery, according to Brewbound.
Celis had become a vital contract brewer for some local brands over the course of two years, including Uncle Billy's, Pedernales and Lake Austin Ales.
Since the summer of 2017, Uncle Billy's relied on Celis to produce all of the canned products that consumers can purchase at local retailers. (The Barton Springs Road brewery switched licenses at that time, making beers that can only be enjoyed on site rather than taken to go.) Uncle Billy's owner Bob Leggett also owns the Pedernales and Robert Earl Keen beer brands. All three were made at Celis until March.
Leggett is seeking a brewery partner to bring the cans back to market, according to a company spokesman. On Sept. 1, when Texas' new law allowing for beer-to-go sales at manufacturing breweries takes effect, Uncle Billy's South Austin site will start selling four-packs of beer for off-site consumption, alongside four-packs of its canned cocktails.
A newer local brand, Lake Austin Ales, had also been producing its beer at Celis. Contract brewing there will stop this week, and Lake Austin "has contracted with another larger brewery to handle production while we finalize plans for our own spot," according to a written statement from the company.
Lake Austin Ales, which specializes in primarily "juicy" beers like IPAs and blonde ales, will announce the name of the new contract brewery next month.
The return of Celis Brewery has been a dream come true for Christine Celis. Before she was able to reclaim her family name for the brewery in 2017, she had planned to operate a brewery called Flemish Fox that would make all of her father's old recipes, including the famous Celis White that introduced Austin to craft beer in the early 1990s. She has been able to bring back those recipes; Celis brewers, including Christine's daughter Daytona Camps, have also been offering beers of their own invention.
The Belgian-style witbier had all but died out when Pierre Celis brewed it anew in his village of Hoegaarden in 1966, running the first Celis brewery there until 1985, when it burned down and was subsequently scooped up by the now-massive conglomerate of Anheuser-Busch InBev. He moved his family to Austin and opened the Celis Brewery of the 1990s. To keep up with demand, Pierre sold it in 2000 to another brewing giant, Miller, which effectively ended his beloved brand.