10 Breweries That Are Still Making Beer, Centuries Later

Beer tanks in a brewery

Jeff Alworth / Flickr

A majority of beer drinkers will probably tell you that the brand doesn't really matter as long as it is not flat and is served cold. But the number of enthusiasts who have a passion for sipping unique beers is growing. In fact, the microbrew industry has never been stronger. Every brewery seems to be creating small-batch specialty beers with clever names and hipster-inspired logos.

What gets lost in today's specialty-beer shuffle is that people have been enjoying this hop-based beverage for more than a millennium. The world’s oldest breweries have been around for centuries and have survived fads and changing tastes (and even wars and epidemics).

These 10 beer brands have stood the test of time, and you can visit the places where the beer is produced and see the history for yourself.

1
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Weihenstephan Brewery, Germany

Wikimedia Commons.

In the year 1040, the head monk at the Weihenstephan Monastery obtained a license from the local authorities to brew beer. Today, just a few decades shy of its 1000th birthday, the brewery at Weihenstephan is still in operation.

In the early 18th century, the monastery was closed but the brewery continued to thrive under private ownership, creating quality beers under Bavaria's famously strict purity law. Eventually, Weihenstephan was named the official Bavarian state brewery. Today, the brewery offers tours of the facilities where it produces a dozen quality beers, including an original variety that is made with the same ingredients that have been used for almost 1,000 years.

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Weltenburg Abbey Brewery, Germany

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By most accounts, the Weltenburg Abbey Brewery began operations only 10 years after Weihenstephan (though both places have laid claim to the title of “world's oldest brewery”). The abbey occupies a beautiful location on the banks of the Danube River.

Visitors can take tours of the brewing facilities and also enjoy Weltenburg's best brews in the onsite beer garden. The abbey's other specialty, Bavarian cheese, is also on offer. Weltenburg is famous for its dunkel-style brew, which has taken home gold medals from several prestigious beer festivals.

3
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Yuengling Brewery, Pennsylvania

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Though it is almost 800 years younger than the two German spots just mentioned, Yuengling Brewery, in Pottsville, Penn., does have the distinction of being the oldest brewery still in operation in the United States. Originally called the Eagle Brewery, it opened in 1829 under the ownership of a German immigrant named David Jungling (“Yuengling” is the Americanized spelling of his name).

The company survived prohibition by making beer that had only 0.5 percent alcohol. Despite remaining relatively small, Yuengling has enjoyed a lot of success over the years. It has bought-out other local and regional beer brands and also opened other breweries (which were eventually merged with the original Pottsville plant).Yuengling boasts at least one very famous fan: President Obama claims that it is his favorite brand of beer.

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Stiegl, Austria

European Travelista/Flickr.

An important historic event took place in 1492. It was during this year that the famous Austrian brewery Stiegl produced its first beer. To this day, Stiegl, which is roughly translated as “little step,” remains one of Austria's most popular brands, both domestically and internationally.

Located in historic Salzburg, the Stiegl Brewery now features one of the world's largest beer museums and a spacious beer garden that serves Austrian food specialties alongside fresh pours of its beers. Salzburg sits on the western border of Austria, not far from the famous German beer making region of Bavaria, so many beer tourists include a stop at Stiegl on their Bavarian brewery itinerary.

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Molson, Canada

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Opened in Montreal in 1786, the Molson Brewery is the oldest brewery in North America, and it was the second company formed in all of Canada (the first was the famous Hudson Bay Company). Though it has grown exponentially over the years, Molson is still headquartered in its original Montreal location, on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. Beer is still produced on the site where the original brewery once stood.

Today, Molson has breweries all over Canada, and it recently merged with U.S. beer giant Coors. However, the descendants of John Molson, the founder, are still involved with the company. The Molson family also owns the Montreal Canadiens, one of the most famous franchises in professional hockey.

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Shepherd Neame, England

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Shepherd Neame is the oldest currently running beer producer in England. Located in the famous county of Kent, the brewery has been in operation since 1698. Though the production methods have been updated over the years, the brewers still use the same ingredients as their predecessors: locally sourced grains and water from an onsite artisanal well.

Shepherd Neame owns about 360 pubs in Kent, Essex and London. The company exports to a number of countries, including the U.S. and Canada. The brewery produces a range of beers, including cask beers that are aged in traditional barrels.

7
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Rochefort Brewery, Belgium

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Located inside the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy in its namesake town of Rochefort, this unique producer made its first beer in 1595. This is the quintessential Trappist brewery; about 15 monks work to produce enough beer to support the monastery and the charitable causes that they champion.

All three of Rochefort's beers are quite strong, with the alcohol content ranging from 7.5 percent to 11.3 percent. These brews also age very well and can be stored in a beer cellar for several years without losing their quality. Though you can tour the town and see the abbey, the brewery is closed to the public, and the exact brewing methods are a closely guarded secret only known by the monks who work there.

8
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Innstadt Brewery, Germany

Wikimedia Commons.

The Innstadt Brewery is located on the banks of the Danube River in the Bavarian town of Passau. Opened in 1318, the brewery has always subscribed to the traditionalist brewing philosophy of Bavaria, which is something to the effect of “nothing belongs in beer except barley, hops and water.”

Visitors can tour Innstadt's facilities and also see the other historic breweries in Passau. The Hacklberg Brewery, for example, has been making beer since 1618. Beers from both these historic breweries are served at small pubs all around the town.

9
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St. Francis Abbey Brewery, Ireland

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Well-known domestically and amongst beer enthusiasts all over the world, the brewery at Saint Francis Abbey in Kilkenny is actually older than its famous Irish peer: Dublin's St. James's Gate (home of Guinness). Founded by John Smithwick in 1710, the brewery was made on the site of its namesake abbey, where monks had already been brewing beer as early as the 1300s.

The ruins of the original abbey can still be seen on the grounds of the modern-day brewery. Now named after its founder, Smithwick's beer is known for its trademark red ale, though several other varieties have been added to its line-up recently. In celebration of its 300th birthday, the brewery started offering tours of its facilities.

10
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St. James's Gate Brewery, Ireland

Mikel Ortega/Flickr.

The famous Guinness beers are brewed at Saint James's Gate Brewery in Dublin. First opened in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, this brewery was located in an area that already had a thriving beer trade. However, Guinness grew faster than its competitors and became the largest brewery in the world in the 19th century. It no longer holds this distinction, although it remains the largest producer of stout beers in the world.

The Guinness Storehouse is a major tourist attraction for Dublin visitors. There are bars, a retail space and exhibits housed inside the 250-year-old warehouse, which sits in the middle of the Guinness brewery compound. Regular tours of the other parts of the facility are not offered, however.