14 Brands of Alcohol Founded Before the United States (That You Can Still Drink)
Mankind has been brewing alcoholic drinks since ancient times. Egyptians produced wine and beer for everyday consumption starting around 4,000 B.C., and by the Middle Ages, in Europe, many people drank ale or beer daily.
A number of modern breweries and vineyards started as part of a monastery where monks produced top-quality beer and wine both to drink and to sell, and then passed their recipes down to generations of fellow monks, before the brands were privatized or nationalized much later.
The following brands are among the oldest making and selling alcohol today, often under the ownership of the same families or companies that started them. Note: This isn’t a comprehensive list. The first eight brands on the list date to medieval times and are still made today. Brands later in the list, appearing from the 16th century on, were chosen for their unusual back stories and/or geographical diversity.
Year founded: 862
Where you can buy it: Directly from the winery in Germany and select stores in the U.S. (limited)
Staffelter Hof was originally a wine-producing abbey, in Rhineland, dating back to 862. The land was given to the abbey by royal decree, and the abbey kept it until 1805, when a private family purchased the land; its descendants still run the winery today. A distillery was added to the property in 1890, and more recently, a guesthouse.
Chateau de Goulaine
Year founded: 930-1000 (exact date unknown)
Where you can buy it: Online and in select wine stores
In the 1100s, Jean de Goulaine built a fortified chateau in the Loire Valley on his his family’s estate and named it Chateau Goulaine. The family initially produced wine just for themselves, but eventually sold it under the name Chateau de Goulaine. The Goulaines, who were enobled in 1610, still own the business today, making their winery the oldest continually owned European family business.
Since 1984, the site has also been home to a butterfly aviary, with hundreds of tropical butterflies in glass conservatories. The late Marquis de Goulaine was a writer who published memoirs and novels, winning a literary prize, the Prix Renaudot, in 1996.
Year founded: 1035 (estimated)
Where you can buy it: Wine and beer stores worldwide
The Benedictine monastery of Weltenberg in present-day Germany was established sometime around 600, however there are no records proving that beer was being brewed at the monastery until 1035 when the death of the Master Brewer was recorded. Weltenberger beer is still matured in rock cellars under the original monastery and it’s still brewed by monks.
Year founded: 1040
Where you can buy it: Sold in stores across the United States and worldwide. Use the brewery’s product finder to search by zip codes for local outlets.
By 768, the monks at the Weihenstephan Monastery, high on a hill overlooking the medieval town of Friesing in modern-day Germany, had gained a reputation for beer making. In 1040, they received a license from the city to sell beer. Over the next 800 years, and through fires, invasions and plagues, the monks persevered and built a reputation as master brewers.
The brewery was nationalized in 1803 by the Bavarian Government and turned into a school for brewing and agriculture. Hundreds of brewmasters from around the world have learned the art of beer making here. The brand regularly wins silver and gold awards globally for their beers, which are sold worldwide.
Year founded: 1074
Where you can buy it: Select stores worldwide
In 1074, six knights decided to hand in their swords and become monks, and they built an Abbey in Affligem in modern-day Belgium. They learned to brew beer and, for 860 years, the monks persisted in making their beer, despite the abbey being destroyed twice.
During World War II, the German army stole the abbey’s copper kettles. For 15 years, the monks were unable to brew. In 1956, the abbey’s closely guarded beer recipes were handed to an outside brewing company, which makes the traditional Affligem beers to this day. The bottles and labels still keep the sword and cross keys design to show the monastic origin of the beers.
Year founded: 1141
Where you can buy it: Available widely in Japan or online in the United States
A family of samurai warriors began the original Sudo Honke brewery to stimulate the local economy and help pay their taxes. Sudo Honke Sake is the oldest sake brewery in the world, having survived earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and a host of other disasters.
The brewery is run by the 55th generation of the original founding family. The company uses artesian well water and rice for brewing their sake, and produces less than 50,000 gallons annually, so supply is limited.
Year founded: 1270
Where you can buy it: Available online or from wine stores worldwide
The Frapin family began as wine growers, became distillers and still owns almost 600 acres of vineyards in France. The family line includes the great French Renaissance writer, Francois Rabelais. In 1885, the Frapin distillery began to win awards for their cognac, which it continues to win to this day.
In 1892, Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower, created the iron framework for the distillery buildings on the estate. In 2008, Frapin Cognac was voted “Best Spirit in the World” at the International Spirits Challenge, the first time a cognac had ever been chosen.
Year founded: 1385
Where you can buy it: Available in wine stores worldwide or online
In the 1200s, the Antinori family was involved in weaving and banking in Florence, before turning to winemaking in 1385. By 1506, the Antinori family was one of the richest in the region, producing 400 barrels of wine annually. In 1928, the Antinori family created its first Chianti wines, and in 1957, opened restaurants that pair wines with typical Tuscan dishes.
In 1997, an Antinori wine was picked as “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator magazine, the first Italian wine to ever win this recognition. The Antinori family still owns the business, twenty-six generations later.
Year founded: 1575
Country: The Netherlands
Specialties: Fruit liqueurs, Dutch gin, vodka
Where you can buy it: Widely distributed at liquor stores in the United States or online from the Bols website
The Bols family began distilling fruit and spice liqueur in a small facility in Amsterdam in 1575, making cumin, cardamom and orange-flavored spirits. In 1652, it began to ship its liqueurs all over the world, and in 1664 the family started to distill Genever, or “Dutch gin.” In 1989, the Bols family added vodka to their list of distilled spirits. The Bols brand currently offers over 45 types of fruit liqueurs.
Year founded: 1608
Where you can buy it: Available online in the United States and in local liquor stores worldwide
Bushmills has been producing fine Irish whiskey since it was awarded a royal license in 1608 by King James I; it claims it’s the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. The only time the distillery was unable to make spirits was during World War II, when it was closed for six years to house troops. Still standing after 400 years, a devastating fire and two world wars, Bushmills continues to win gold medals for its whiskey, most recently in 2010 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Year founded: 1638
Where you can buy it: Available at select wine stores worldwide
Nicolau Kopke, a German, settled in Portugal in 1636 and began buying and reselling wine. In 1638, his first bottles were shipped to Northern Europe. In 1781, after purchasing a farm, the Kopke company began to produce wine, and to focus exclusively on selling port. Kopke is well-known for its aged and tawny ports.
Mount Gay Rum
Year founded: 1703
Where you can buy it: Available at select liquor stores worldwide
In the 1700s, Barbados was a center of sugar and rum production, and both were greatly in demand overseas. John Gay developed a distillation process using double stills, and created Mount Gay Rum, the oldest rum distillery in the world, in the process.
His drink was carried on sailing ships out of Bridgetown, the capital, to the wider world. In keeping with its sailing legacy, Mount Gay sponsors competitive sailing regattas worldwide each year.
Year founded: 1729
Where you can buy it: Available at select wine stores worldwide
In 1729, a Benedictine monk by the name of Nicolas Ruinart set up the world’s first Champagne house in France. In 1764, Ruinart created the first rosé Champagne. In the mid-18th century, the House of Ruinart bought the ancient chalk quarries in the local area to use as cellars in which to ferment its Champagne, and these cellars — now a UNESCO world heritage site — are still in use today.
Year founded: 1773
Country: United States
Specialty: Bourbon whiskey
Where you can buy it: Limited availability at select liquor stores
In the late 1700s, a town grew up at the site where buffalo once crossed the Kentucky River. The Buffalo Trace distillery was founded in 1773 and took its name from this crossing. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States. During Prohibition, the distillery had a medical exemption that allowed it to keep making whiskey for “medicinal purposes.” The distillery covers 130 acres, has won numerous “Distillery of the Year” awards, from Whiskey Advocate, Whiskey Magazine and Icons of Whiskey America. It’s still family-owned and operated.