10 oldest operating distilleries in the world

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10 oldest operating distilleries in the world

By
24 September 2020

By | 24 September 2020

Tradition flavored with craftsmanship

Be it bourbon, gin, or genever, distilling has been around for centuries with its yield attracting millions around the world. Its history is undocumented and vague at times but here is our list of the oldest distilleries to celebrate the heritage, craft, and dedication of the industry.

Read all the way to the bottom to find out the oldest!

1820s — Kasauli Distillery, India

 

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The tradition of distilling in the Himachal Pradesh district in India started in the late 1820s. Later on, to kick off the production of malt whisky and IPA, its founder Edward Abraham Dyer brought the distilling and brewing equipment on sailing ships over from Scotland and England. They went up the Ganges River as far as possible and used carts drawn by oxen to take the equipment up into the Himalayas.

Dyer chose this particular location for his distillery because the climate at this altitude resembled that of Scotland and because the local market comprising British troops and civilians was ready for his distilled products. In 1855, the company merged with Mohan Meakin Limited and survives under this name to this day. 

1812 — La Rojeña distillery, Mexico

 

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Now the oldest active distillery in Latin America, the history of the distillery producing the world’s best-selling brand of Tequila started in 1758 when Don José Antonio de Cuervo began to cultivate and harvest blue agave plant from which tequila is made. The first tequila drink was successfully produced here in 1795. 

The distillery itself was founded in 1812 but it wasn’t until 1873 that the company shipped the first three bottles of Jose Cuervo across the border into the US. Today still, all of Jose Cuervo tequila is produced in the town of Tequila in Mexico.

1787 — Buffalo Trace, Kentucky, US

 

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Buffalo Trace is the longest continuously operating distillery in the United States with its roots going back into the early 1770s. Its name derives from the fact that the distillery’s location was once a buffalo-crossing spot on the Kentucky River.

The oldest house on the site is the Old Taylor House from 1792 even though the distillery officially started production before this time. Unlike others, it survived the period of Prohibition between the years of 1920 and 1933 as it became one of the few to receive a permit to make so-called medicinal whiskey.

1786 — Strathisla Distillery, Scotland

 

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Originally a small estate supplying whisky within northeastern Scotland, the 18th-century distillery is said to be the oldest continuously running distillery in Scotland. It was initially known as Milton Distillery for its proximity to the nearby ruins of Milton Castle.

The distillery lost its glory during the times of WWII while being misused by London black marketeers and it wasn’t until later that it was restored again. Luckily, in 1950 it was purchased at an auction for £71,000 by Chivas Brothers who have turned it into the home of legendary Chivas Regal

A little has changed in its appearance since the beginnings and visitors today can stroll across the original cobbled courtyard or delight in the distinctive double pagodas. 

1775 — Glenturret Distillery, Scotland

 

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Officially established in 1775, the distilling tradition of Glenturret stretches back into 1717 with illegal distillers seeking to avoid paying tax to England. It is older than Strathisla but hasn’t remained operational at all times throughout its history — the distillery fell silent for over three decades during WWI and the US Prohibition Movement and only reopened in 1957.

In the years 1963–1987, it was home to Towser, a female tortoiseshell cat and an active mouser at the estate. Recounted by the Guinness World Records auditors, in her 24-year career she managed to catch a record-breaking figure of 28,899 mice. After her death, the distillery put up a bronze statue to commemorate her successes.

1757 — Kilbeggan Distillery, Republic of Ireland

 

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Despite the Kilbeggan distillery being closed for several decades in the 20th century, it surely deserves to be on our list for the perseverance of townsmen who managed to bring it back to life.

The production of Irish whiskey there officially starts after receiving a license in 1757 but some say it goes even earlier than that. However, the distillery has seen ups and downs in the course of history.   

In the 1830s, half of Ireland’s population pledges to abstain from alcohol during the Cork Total Abstinence Society movement which deals a blow at the country’s production of whiskey. If that wasn’t enough, later in the century the distillery was hit by a fire destroying a part of the facility. 

With both the Prohibition Movement in its key export market and later on a tax increase in Ireland, the distillery was shut down. In the 1960s, it was briefly turned into a pigsty with concrete floors made out of thousands of empty bottles. Recently the distillery has become operational again, using traditional methods and copper stills.  

1703 — Mount Gay, Barbados

 

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Mount Gay is believed to have been continuously running since 1703, although recent findings suggest it might have been as early as 1654. Either way, its product is still the oldest commercial rum in the world and one of Barbados’s most famous exports. 

The island’s geology is much different from other Caribbean islands — instead of having originated from volcanic activity it was formed by limestone being lifted up above sea level. The water used for the rum is thus naturally filtered through coral.

These days, there’s only one active sugarcane refinery surviving on the island out of the initial forty. The Mount Gay distillery is thus dependent on bringing molasses from other refineries from around the Caribbean even though all of the imported varieties are still native to the Barbadian environment.

1691 — Nolet Distillery, Netherlands

 

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Passed down within the Nolet family, the distillery has been distilling for almost 330 years, specializing in vodka, gin, and genever. For eleven generations now, the unique recipes have been handed down from father to son, all within one journal that is nowadays kept in a safe. Allegedly, only one Nolet per generation can hold the key to this safe.

Schiedam and the surrounding area around the old distillery was once famous for its alcohol production. By the end of the 19th century, the town had over 400 distilleries out of which only Nolet survives to this day. 

1608 — Old Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland

 

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With its distill registration signed by King James I, Old Bushmills is among the oldest whiskey producers in the world despite the fact the Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself wasn’t founded until 1784. Its name comes from the mills scattered along the River Bush, the water of which is used during the distillation together with Irish barley.

Its single malt survived the imposition of a special tax in mid-19th century Ireland. The Crown had then decided to tax barley and many brands switched to substitutes like corn and other grains. The distillery’s original recipe is supposedly the reason its long tradition and popularity continues to this day.

1575 — Lucas Bols Distillery, Netherlands

 

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In the second half of the 16th century, the Bols family established the liquor distillery ‘t Lootsje in the heart of Amsterdam, using cumin, cardamom, and orange as the first herbs to give flavor to their liquors. Today it is the oldest surviving distillery in the world.

By the turn of the 18th century, the company created 300 liquor recipes and started worldwide distribution. It has since introduced many flavors onto the markets around the world, such as the Bols Genever which saw the birth of the cocktail culture in the 19th-century United States.

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Jana Brnáková

Jana Brnáková

"days like this. like your day today. maybe the rain on the window trying to get through to you. what do you see today? what is it? where are you?" CB