Daytona Camps has tasted countless beers, worked at two breweries and recently brewed her own recipe, a Belgian red ale. That might seem like only the beginning of a long career as a brewer — but it’s all the more remarkable considering that she turned 21 just two weeks ago.
She’s simply following in her family’s footsteps. Her grandfather and her mother, Pierre and Christine Celis, were also very young when they were bitten by the beer bug: Pierre was only 16 and living in Hoegaarden, Belgium, when he began mastering the witbier recipe that would later transform Austin’s definition of what good beer is. Before he ever brought it to Texas, he was making Hoegaarden a household name, and it’s at that brewery where Christine learned all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a brewery run.
Camps has grown up knowing how important her grandfather was to the Belgian and Texan craft beer industries — his old Celis brewery, opened in 1992, was Austin’s first brewery in almost 100 years — and when he passed away in 2011, she was looking for a direction to take her life and decided she wanted to take up the family business, too.
To gain experience, she’s working as the assistant brewer at Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse & Brewery. (Although she’s spent most of the position underage, it was perfectly legal for her to brew beer before she turned 21; she just couldn’t drink it.) She wants to learn all she can about the craft before she eventually starts working with her mother and another original Celis employee, Kim Clarke, at the brewery that will continue Pierre Celis’ legacy.
“When people find out that I’m his granddaughter, they get all excited. ‘Oh, when are you going to bring that beer back?’ ‘Soon, maybe?’ That’s my goal — to bring back those beers,” she says.
She remembers playing in Celis Brewery with her older brother during its heyday in the 1990s. She remembers the brewery’s warmth, the enticing smells of the hops and malts and the magnificent sight of the gleaming copper kettles. She was 6 when Pierre Celis, having been unable to brew enough Celis White (the cloudy Belgian witbier that started it all) and all the other Celis beers, ended up selling his beloved brewery to Miller Brewing Co. after a partnership with the larger business soured.
The loss of Celis Brewery meant that for a few years, her mother wanted nothing to do with the beer industry. During those years, Camps grew up in the Westlake area, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Belgium (and a bilingual one at that — she speaks Flemish, the Dutch language spoken in northern Belgium). Her parents split up in 2001. Her father, who briefly brewed at Celis Brewery, found his niche in sales and now works as a sales representative for Heineken in Houston with Camps’ step-mom and two half-brothers.
Although Camps is getting an associate degree in general education studies, learning how to brew is central to her life. She plans to take some brewing courses at the Siebel Institute of Technology and to apprentice under one of the brewmasters who worked with her grandfather in Belgium. Plus, another U.S. brewery or two might see her on their staffs in coming years.
Currently, she lives with her mother (“We’re perfect roommates,” she says, “and my mom wants me to live with her forever”) and spends much of her time at Uncle Billy’s while Christine, who does sales for Uncle Billy’s, works to secure a location for Pierre, the local brewery that will carry on Pierre Celis’ legacy.
“It’s going to be called by his first name,” Christine Celis says. “Just Pierre. That’s how people knew him. Just Pierre. He was so down to earth. It was never Mr. Celis. ‘Call me Pierre.’ So we’re going to call it Pierre. Pierre’s White, Pierre’s Pale, Pierre’s Bock and all of that.”
She and Clarke plan to bring back his old recipes as well as brew up some fun experimental ones. Those are the sort of beers Camps is interested in, too — and ultimately, the new brewery “is also for my daughter’s future,” Christine Celis says.
In the meantime, she and Clarke have done a couple of collaboration brews with two local breweries: Adelbert’s, which focuses on the same Belgian-style beers Pierre Celis perfected, and Uncle Billy’s, whose owner, Rick Engel, opened Houston’s first brewpub since Prohibition in 1994. For the past several months, cans of the Gypsy Dubbel Coffee Porter have been available from the brewpub and at other local bars and stores.
The Adelbert’s collaboration, the Gypsy Belgian IPA, was the first IPA Camps says she’s ever liked. Since that first taste, she’s had other IPAs and doesn’t shy away from adding hops to her beers. In fact, she included 5 pounds of dry-hopped Cascade hops in her first beer recipe, a Belgian red ale. She brewed it last month at Uncle Billy’s as part of the Pink Boots Society’s International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, during which a group of women team up to produce a beer together.
Called Unite, the beer is on tap now at Uncle Billy’s, and a party later this month will showcase all the red ales made in the Austin area as part of the women’s brew day event (Adelbert’s and Middleton Brewing also participated).
Uncle Billy’s head brewer Trevor Nearburg has been her mentor since she first started working at Uncle Billy’s late last year, after a year’s stint at a brewpub in Buffalo, N.Y. While he’s been revamping the beer program at the Barton Springs brewpub, she’s taken on more and more responsibility in the brewhouse — especially once she brewed her first beer. He thinks now that she’s done one, she’s “going to get the itch to try more stuff,” he says.
“I’m still freaking out about this one!” she responds while clutching a glass of the red ale.
Both have been figuring out what kind of special seasonal brews they want to start adding to Uncle Billy’s tap list. Uncle Billy’s Green Room IPA and Humbucker Helles were put in cans last year (making the brewpub the first in the state to start distributing), and Nearburg, who came over from Real Ale in October, plans to add another can, a pale ale, to the mix as well. In the coming months, he also wants to brew a smoked Berliner weisse, a rye beer and other rauchbiers. With Camps’ help, of course.
“If I can have her focus on fermentation and taking readings, I think that would help her to continue learning and growing and become that third generation of the Celis brewery,” Nearburg says.
Yeast “is a cool thing to learn about, too,” she says. “I want to spend as much time as I can looking in the microscope. I’ve got the lab coat. I just need the pink boots.”
All in the family
Uncle Billy’s hasn’t been the only place where brewing is a family affair. Head brewer Trevor Nearburg took over in October — leaving his brother, Ross, at Real Ale Brewing. They started there together after realizing that their “really nice jobs” weren’t meaningful or fulfilling (Trevor was in the international tax field in New York; Ross was a chemical engineer in Texas).
So when Trevor returned to Austin, he and his brother started homebrewing and quickly discovered not just a hobby but a true passion they could see themselves doing for the rest of their lives. “I realized that I never thought that anyone could be happy with their job until I met people in the brewing industry,” he says.
They both managed to secure positions at Real Ale, working their way “from the bottom stacking boxes.” Eventually, Trevor became an assistant brewer, while Ross was hired as project manager. Ross has stayed in that role, but Trevor switched breweries when Uncle Billy’s owner Rick Engel made an irresistible offer: “How would you like to have a 20-barrel brewhouse as your playground?”
The brothers stay in touch all the time, however — they live right next door to each other.