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The Oldest Breweries in the World

The Oldest Breweries in the World
Weltenburg Abbey

Beer has been around for millennia, but dedicated breweries are a far more recent invention. Read on to explore the oldest breweries in the world.

It’s believed that beer was first discovered by accident in ancient Mesopotamia as a by-product of breadmaking. The happiest accident to serve humankind rivals other world-changing inventions of the time like mathematics and the wheel. One of the first written records of beer’s existence appeared as hieroglyphs on ancient Egyptian papyrus, documenting beer used in religious ceremonies at the time. But the drink became a staple of the Medieval food pyramid once it made its way to northern Europe. There were plenty of raw ingredients like barley that grew in the area, and alcoholic beverages were considered healthy. Some say that beer was all that was available to drink at the time due to contaminated drinking water, but this is most likely a myth. Beer was popular, whether or not it was necessary for survival.

Beer’s fame combined with Monastic doctrine that stated monks must work for a living made brewing a central moneymaker for many monasteries during the Middle Ages. This is why Europe is the cake-taker for producing the majority of the oldest breweries in the world, but beer’s flowing taps know no bounds. The biggest beer-drinking countries include many in Europe, like Austria and the Czech Republic, but places like Namibia and the U.S. also know how to hold their booze. However, most official breweries around the world did not arrive until hundreds of years later—mostly due to German influence. But for the sake of variety, newer breweries from around the world are included in this list.

The Oldest Breweries of All Time: Ancient breweries, approx. 5,000 - 13,000 years old

The Oldest Breweries of All Time: Ancient breweries, approx. 5,000 - 13,000 years old

In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences released an archeological study that found evidence of the earliest known brewery in Mijiaya, China. Stanford archeologists found starches such as mountain yam, broomcorn millet and Job’s tears (millet), along with barley in the residue of ancient pottery. Today, Jing-A Brewing Co. out of Beijing, China, created Mijiaya Neolithic Ale (above), a 3.7 percent sour ale, using the same ingredients that were found at the site.

Two years later in 2018, a much older 13,000-year-old brewery in Israel was discovered. Similar to the Mijiaya site, researchers found residue in stone mortars buried in the ground at a burial site for semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. This beer would be much different than the effervescent golden beverage we know today, researchers say. It would have much lower alcohol content and a porridge-like consistency.

While that might not sound particularly palatable by today’s standards, if it’s beer, it’s worth a shot!

The Oldest Continuously Operating Brewery: Weihenstephan Brewery, est. 1040

The Oldest Continuously Operating Brewery: Weihenstephan Brewery, est. 1040

The Bavarian brewery Weihenstephan has survived four fires, three plagues, multiple earthquakes and various wars throughout its thousand-year history. Its dogged persistence paid off; the brewery gets the blue ribbon for the oldest continusouly operating one in the world. Weihenstephan was built as a monastery in 725 (that’s right a triple-digit year), and monastic records detail the first reference of hops in 768. Historians assume monks were brewing during this time. The brewery was officially licensed to make and sell beer in 1040. Over seven hundred years later, the monastery closed due to secularization of the Bavarian state, but the monks continued to brew like holy moonshiners.

This area in Bavaria later became a global hub for brewing education, which started in 1852 when the Central Agricultural School relocated to Weihenstephan. The renowned brewing school is now called the Technical University of Munich and continues to work closely with the brewery. Weihenstephan makes around 12 styles, and wheat beer makes up about 88 percent of the brewery's total output. All beers comply with the Bavarian Purity Law that states only malt, hops, yeast and water can be used as ingredients. Beer samples are sent to the university to be tested and analyzed before hitting the taps today. So, while Weihenstephan maintains deep historical roots, the brewery continued to evolve, which is one reason for its status as the oldest brewery in the world.

Other Trappist Breweries: Weltenburg Abbey Brewery (Germany,1050), Affligem Brewery (Belgium, 1074), Bolten Brauerei (Germany, 1266) and Augustiner-Bräu (Germany, 1328).

The Oldest brewery in the U.S.: D.G. Yuengling & Son, est. 1829

The Oldest in the U.S.: D.G. Yuengling & Son, est. 1829

Far younger than the monastic breweries of Europe, Yuengling is the grandfather of American beers. It first opened as Eagle Brewery in the coal mining town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and was brought to America by way of a German immigrant David G. Yuengling. The original plant burned in a fire in 1831 and was rebuilt nearby. The current facility remains there today, churning out barrels of its heritage brews like Traditional Lager and Black & Tan along with recent innovations such as Yuengling Flight, a low-carb and low-calorie light beer .

The brewery adopted the name D.G. Yuengling & Son and survived another catastrophic event—Prohibition—after almost 100 years of operation. The company was forced to pivot to the dark side and began producing “near beer” at 0.5 percent alcohol along with ice cream to survive Prohibition’s pious tyranny. Yuengling's adaptability carried them through and the brewery is still family-owned and operated to this day. Yuengling celebrated its 190th anniversary in 2019.

Oldest Breweries Elsewhere in the World

Namibia in southern Africa, is the second-largest consumer of beer in the world behind only the Czech Republic. Germany colonized the country in the late 1800s, and that influence most likely attributes to its powerful beer culture. Namibia Breweries Limited was the first to officially open in Namibia in 1920. Brewers there uphold the 1516 Reinheitsgebot beer purity law of Bavaria, which entails that only certain ingredients are allowed in beer. Ethiopia's St. George Brewery is also considered one of the oldest in Africa, established in 1922.

Vienna-style lager brewery Victoria in Mexico was the oldest brewery in the Americas when it arrived in 1865. It was later acquired in the 1930s by the Modelo Group, known for Pacifico, Modelo and Corona (before the pandemic, of course). The beer is still made with the same ingredients today as it was over 150 years ago.

Beer is obviously one of the most important beverages in human history, and this list of breweries conveys the fact that breweries that are dedicated to crafting brews have long been seen as a necessary part of the process. We hope you enjoyed this list of the oldest breweries in the world.

Bolten Brewery was founed in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany in 1266 when the Lord of Myllendonk authorized the brewing of beer at its current site in Korschenbroich. It claims to be the oldest altbier brewery in the world.

Bolten Brewery was founed in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany in 1266 when the Lord of Myllendonk authorized the brewing of beer at its current site in Korschenbroich. It claims to be the oldest altbier brewery in the world.