Beer is one of the ancient beverages in the world, so it might not be surprising that there had been breweries established way, way back then. But what is surprising is that some of the oldest breweries are still existing – and boy, are we glad they’re still here!
Believe it or not, most of the oldest existing breweries began at monasteries and abbeys. Monks and nuns had breweries with dedicated equipment and used the beer not just for their own consumption, but also as payment. Only a handful of the earliest existing monasteries have breweries, and they still maintain the traditional way of brewing. Let’s start this list from the oldest (indicated by their year of founding):
1) Weihenstephan Brewery (1040)
Weihenstephan Brewery is a German brewery located within the former Weihenstephan Abbey in Freising, Bavaria. It is now regarded as the oldest brewery in existence. Today, the brewery is owned by the Bavarian government. As of 2014, Weihenstephan Brewery rolls out 382,341 hectolitres (325,819 US barrel) annually.
2) Welternburg Abbey Brewery (1050)
The Weltenburg Abbey Brewery is situated within a Benedictine monastery in Welternburg, near the town of Kelheim on the Danube river in Bavaria, Germany. The monastery was already around the 7th century and is regarded as the oldest monastery in Bavaria.
The abbey (including the brewery) was sold off but was later re-purchased. The abbey has been functioning independently since 1913 and continues to brew beer. There is also a restaurant and a beer garden at the abbey.
3) Affligem Brewery (1070)
Like many other old breweries, Affligem Brewery began as an abbey, which was founded in 1074 in the municipality of Affligem, Belgium. A decade after its establishment, the monks started to brew Affligem beer.
However, the abbey has had its shares of bad luck. During the 14th century, the building suffered extensive damage caused by the invading troops. The monks later rebuilt the abbey and the brewery but were forced to close it down again in 1794. It was not until 1870 that the monks returned to the abbey and re-opened the brewery in 1885. But still, the abbey was closed one final time in 1940, and this time for good. Since 1970, Affligem beers have been brewed by De Smet Brewery, which later renamed itself as Affligem Bourwerij. Today, the brewery is owned as Heineken International.
4) Bolten Brewery (1266)
Bolten Brewery was established in 1266 and is considered the oldest altbier brewery in the world. The term “altbier” refers to the style of traditional German ale wherein it is top-fermented, instead of the bottom fermentation of other lagers.
Bolten Brewery is located in the city of Korschenbroich, within the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. As of 2019, Bolten Brewery produces two types of altbier Alt and its unfiltered variant named Ur-Alt. Today, the brewery is owned by Michael Hollman, who vows to keep the traditional brewing methods intact.
5) Gaffel Becker & Co. (1302)
Also known by its full name Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker & Co., the brewery may be established in 1908. However, it traces its roots way back in 1302 when it began its brewing operations on 41 Eigelstein Street in the city of Cologne, Germany.
The brewery on Eigelstein changed hands until 1908 when the Becker brothers purchased it. Since then, it has been operated by several generations of the Becker family. It is famous for its ale called Kölsch, a regional top-fermented beer.
6) Augustiner-Bräu (1328)
Augustiner-Bräu is the oldest independent brewery in the city of Munich, Bavaria, Germany. During the 14th century, a group of Augustinian hermits established a brewery just near their monastery and outside of Munich. The Augustiner uses the date 1328 as the year of the brewery’s founding. The Augustinian monk typically consumed the beverage they brewed and sold the rest for profit.
The monks were later driven out of the monastery when it was secularized. The brewery remained in its original building until 1817 when the building had fallen to complete disrepair. The brewery moved to Neuhauser Strasse in Munich’s “old town” district. A local brewing family purchased the brewery, and since then, the Augustiner-Bräu has been a privately-owned family business.
7) Spaten-Franziskaner Bräu (1363)
Another old Bavarian brewery is Spaten-Franziskaner Bräu. It was established in 1363 and named for the nearby Franciscan monastery. The brewery moved to different locations but retained its original ownership until 1861 when Joseph Sedlmayr became its sole owner. In 1864, the operations of another brewery, Leist, was shut down, and its entire production was transferred to Franziskaner Weissbier.
Franziskaner Weissbier trademarked its iconic logo in 1909. In 1922, Franziskaner merged with Spaten brewery, creating Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. Today, it is owned by the company AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch InBev), which is famous for its products such as Budweiser and Corona.
8) Stella Artois
The origins of Stella Artois date back in 1366 when Den Hoom brewery was established in Leuven, Belgium. In 1708, a man named Sebastien Artois became head of the brewery. Less than a decade later, Artois purchased the brewery, which he renamed as Brouwerij Artois.
In 1926, the brewery introduced a new beer, Stella, as a Christmas beer (named after a Christmas star). What was initially a seasonal beverage eventually became available all year-round. It has since the brewery’s signature drink. Stella is now owned by Interbrew International B.V., which is a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV. Stella Artois, the beer itself, is a type of pilsner with a 4.8% to 5.2% ABV.
9) Hubertus Brewery
Hubertus Brewery was established in 1454 in the town of Laa an der Thaya, Austria. The decade before, the city’s economy suffered, and in an attempt to revive it, it was seeking a brewing license. Ladislaus Posthumus, the Duke of Austria and king of Bohemia and Hungary, finally awarded the city the license to brew. For the next 400 years or so, Hubertus had been leasing the right to brew beer from the king. In 1847, a man named Anton Kuhtreiber purchased the rights and re-established the brewery as Hubertus Brau. It has been a privately-owned family business since.
10) Stiegl Brewery
Stiegl Brewery was established in 1492 in Salzburg, Austria, and since then, it has been a popular beverage, as well as an integral part of Austria’s unique beer culture. Its original location was in downtown Salzburg, but it relocated to the Maxglan section of the city towards the end of the 1800s. The brewery has been operating in that location since.
Here’s a fun fact: famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart loved to chill out with a fresh glass of dark, tangy Stiegl.