Where Is the Oldest Known Brewery in the World?
Whether you’re on a trip around the globe visiting all the world’s most famous breweries, or you’re just a beer aficionado, you have likely asked yourself at least once, “where is the oldest known brewery in the world?”
After all, beer has a long, sordid history, and it has evolved over time from a thick, rich gruel of sorts to the often light and crisp beverage so many of us know and love today.
What was served in ancient times? And how close can we get to that antiquated beer through modern day breweries?
A History of Beer
There is some disagreement around the history of beer, but most archeologists, anthropologists, and beer historians agree that humans began making and drinking beer around the same time we domesticated and civilized, during the agricultural revolution.
About 10,000 years ago.
Once humans realized that we did not have to wander the earth chasing food, that in fact we could irrigate land, grow crops, and raise livestock, one of the first crops we grew were grains of course.
Grains are easy to grow, high in nutrients, and easy to preserve for long periods of time, which would get us through times of famine.
Now, here is the point of disagreement.
Some will say beer was an accidental “discovery.”
Grains were mixed with water and boiled for a sort of meal and then left out.
Or grains were left out in a storage container and got wet and sat out.
Or bread was made and then left out, got wet, and sat out.
In any of these events, the discovery would have been a fermented grain solution that provided a euphoric effect, and thus the first beer was born and has evolved from there.
Others will contend that humans throughout history have always known about the process of fermentation, and that, in fact, once we have our basic needs met – food, water, and shelter – we will find a way to make an intoxicant.
This argument relies on the understanding that humans have been making and drinking wine since likely before we were even human, since we were still evolving from our ape-like ancestors.
Anthropologists have found that apes in the wild will sit and wait for fruit to ripen and ferment before eating it. Others will collect palm sap and leave it to sit out and ferment before drinking it.
Thus, humans have long known about the fermentation effects of fruits. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine they figured out a way to create a sugary beverage from grains and then make beer to the same effect.
Regardless of which answer is correct, or some combination of both, beer has been with humans for thousands of years.
A History of Brewing
But brewing in the beginning was largely a personal issue.
A family would brew beer for their own needs. Indeed, the oldest brewers were women who brewed beer in their homes to go with meals.
However, it would not have been long before breweries sprung up.
After all, people lived collectively throughout history, providing for the village needs with what each had to give and taking what they needed. In small communities, this concept is easy to grasp.
The baker provides bread, the butcher provides meat, the farmer provides produce, the cobbler provides shoes, and yes, the brewer would provide beer.
One person would perfect the craft and become the go-to brewer for the town. Typically, this person would be a woman.
This of course was long before the concept of capitalism and currency.
Once capitalism arrived on the scene, thousands of years ago, and the idea that you could capitalize on your business, breweries sprung up across the globe where villagers or travelers could stop and buy beer in exchange for coin.
Oldest Breweries in the World
Likewise with the oldest brewers, the first pub owners were also women. One of the first systems of laws in the world is found in Mesopotamia, called the Code of Hammurabi, and it specifically states: “if a tavern keeper (feminine) does not accept grain according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the grain, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.”
This law was written more than 3,000 years ago.
So, breweries are pretty old.
Still, while beer and brewing have been around for ages, they did not take in all parts of the world. They mainly stuck to the Middle East, Africa, China, and India, while the western world tended to favor wine, and indeed saw those who drank beer as barbarians and savages.
One such group of “barbarians” came to be known as the preeminent brewers of the world – the Germans.
The Germanic people, historically, migrated over from Scandinavia and had little interaction with what was known as the seat of western civilization, Greece and Rome, for centuries. It would be many hundreds of years before what we know today as Northern Europe would come to be accepted as part of the western world, which only took place because of the spread of the Roman Empire and the prevalence of trade routes throughout those territories.
From what we know, Germans have been brewing beer and perfecting their craft for more than 1,000 years, since the 9th century at least, and some of the world’s oldest breweries were opened there.
Interestingly, it would be a combination of the Christian influence that came up from Rome and the predilection for beer that the Germanic people have long had that led to some of the best beer in the world.
It was Christian monks who took over the craft of brewing in Germany and even discovered lager yeast by experimenting with storing fermenting beer in cold caves.
The Oldest Brewery Still Around Today
It is one such monastery that was run by Christian monks for hundreds of years that is the oldest known brewery still around today.
The Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan claims to be the oldest brewery in the world as it is located on the site of a former abbey where monks had been brewing and selling beer since 1040.
The brewery itself has been in business since 1803 when the abbey dissolved.
So yes, if you’re on a tour, you must go check it out.
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