What is the Oldest Active Brewery?

Weihenstephaner Brewery Source: TripAdvisor

Weihenstephaner Brewery
Source: TripAdvisor

While we know that beer has been brewed for thousands of years going back to the ancient Sumerians and beyond, there’s only one brewery that we know of that can claim to be the oldest active brewery at almost 1000 years old: the Weihenstephaner Monastery Brewery, a brewery that has survived many disasters.

Weihenstephaner started out as a Benedictine monastery in a small town just north of Munich German. Saint Korbinian started the monastery in 740 AD to honor Saint Steven. Tithing records of a hop garden show that the monks may have started brewing beer there in 768 but they were not yet a legal brewery. In 955, the Hungarians plundered and destroyed the monastery, forcing them to rebuild. but they didn’t officially become a legal brewery until 1040 when an abbott secured brewing rights and a brewing license.

In 1336, the Hungarians returned again under Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian and destroyed the monastery and brewery yet again. The Swedish took their turn during the 30 Years War between 1618 and 1648, and the Austrians had theirs during the Spanish War of Succession between 1701 and 1714. Each invading army destroyed the monastery, but each time the Benedictine monks rebuilt.

If that weren’t enough, the monks faced other natural disasters. Between 1085 and 1463 the monastery burned down four times, destroyed one time by a gigantic earthquake, and was depopulated three times by three plagues and several more times by an unknown number of famines.

In 1803, all monasteries were secularized by the Bavarian State and thus, Weihenstephaner Monastery was dissolved and all posessions and rights were transferred to the state. However, the state opted to continue the brewery’s operations. 

Today the brewery is known as the Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan and it’s still brewing several beers including pale lagers, bocks, weissbiers and hefeweizens. The original brewery’s original buildings and rooms are still used as well; they’ve just traded wood for stainless steel. The brewery has also become a center for beer research and technology, operating in conjuncton and right across the street from the Technical University of Munich, where aspiring brewers can become brewmasters. 

Note: this originally appeared as part of episode 14