There are an overwhelming number of distilleries in the world, with more seeming to pop up every day. But there are companies out there that have been making alcohol for centuries. We searched through distillery licensing records and waded through often murky company histories to find the oldest distilleries in the world that you can visit. The only rule is that the distillery has to be in its original location. If you want to get straight to the oldest source, these are the places to go.
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Bushmills is Ireland’s oldest distillery, as well as the oldest licensed distillery in the U.K. In 1608, King James I (the first king of Great Britain) gave Sir Thomas Phillips a license to distill, kicking off the Bushmills legend. It wasn’t until 1784, however, that it went under the registered name of Old Bushmills Distillery with the pot still logo. Today, you can visit the distillery, which sits along the banks of a river in the small Irish village of Bushmills.
Located on the easternmost island of the West Indies, Mount Gay has a deed for a rum distillation company dating back to 1703. That makes it not only the oldest distillery in Barbados, but the oldest licensed commercial rum distillery in the world. The rum is still made in the northern part of the island, and you can visit the modern visitor center for tours of the distillery, rum tastings, cocktail workshops and rum and food pairings.
The story of Chartreuse is long, winding and filled with monks, wars and herbal medicines. A few solid dates have been confirmed, however. The first is 1605, when monks at a Chartreuse monastery in a small suburb of Paris were give an ancient manuscript for an “Elixir of Long Life.” It wasn’t until 1737 that the monks were able to make a spirit from the 130-ingredient formula. Ownership and production of the spirit waxed and waned with the French Revolution and the World Wars, but it returned to the care of Chartreuse monks in the mid 1900s. Today, it’s only made in the monastery, which you can visit for a tour of the Chartreuse cellar for €15. Note: Tours in English are only offered in June, July and August.
Appleton Estate is located on the same Nassau Valley estate since it was founded by Sir Francis Dickenson in 1655. Who knows what he was doing with all that sugar on his estate in the early years (the company hints that he was probably making rum), but the first official documentation of rum distillation on the estate is in 1749. A new visitor center opened in 2018, welcoming people onto one of the oldest running distilleries in the world with a guided tour from the sugarcane fields to the cup (and a guided tasting, of course).
The Kilbeggan distillery argues that it’s actually the oldest Irish distillery, since Bushmills didn’t distill under its current name with its distillation license until the 1780s. Semantics aside, both are very old. Kilbeggan made most of its money from exports to the U.S. in its early days, and when Prohibition hit, Kilbeggan took a turn for the worse and struggled to get back on its feet. It shut down in 1957, then was revived in the late 1980s in its original location. Tours today include tastings and a walk around of the active distillery.
Scotland has a long and proud history of distilling, but none (officially) go back as far The Glenturret, which claims the oldest working whisky distillery in Scotland. Distillation started an illegal act on a private farm, went legit, and then shut down for a bit from 1921 to 1959. The Famous Grouse brand purchased it in 1959 and opened it up to visitors. Today, it’s been called the “Disney of whisky,” and tours include a heavy dose of history and two drams of whisky.
Bowmore in Scotland, 1779
Bowmore is the oldest distillery in the Islay region of Scotland, and has the world’s oldest whisky maturation warehouse. Bowmore’s founder, David Simpson, bought the land that Bowmore sits on in 1766, and the first mention of the Bowmore Distillery is in 1779. The company doesn’t shy away from hinting that distillation happened in the intervening years, though. Tours of the distillery cost £10, and take you through the distillery, ending at a whisky tasting bar that overlooks the Loch Indaal.
Strathisla is the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands in the Speyside region. It survived a fire in 1876 and an explosion of the malt mill in 1879, and is now a go-to for people itching for historical distillery tours. The single malt today all goes into the Chivas Regal blend. Tours take you from the stills to the racks of whisky casks with exclusive cellar tastings of the casks surrounding you.
Plymouth gin and the first English settlers in America have a strong connection: The pilgrims on the Mayflower spent their last night in England in what is now the distillery in 1620. Back then, it was monastery. The location was turned into a distillery in 1793, and is now the oldest in England. It’s also where the Plymouth gin style was invented. Tours include a Gin Connoisseur’s Tour with a tasting as well as a chance to choose your own botanical recipe for a bespoke gin.
Scotland’s most easterly distillery is also one of its oldest. Glen Garioch makes whisky in extremely small batches and is hard to find. It’s true start date is hard to find as well. All of the bottles are printed with the date 1797, but records in the Aberdeen Journal point to December 1, 1785 as the first date of distillation. Regardless, it was closed from 1968, reopened in 1970 and today has hour-long tours with tastings and the “Wee Tasting Tour,” an hour and a half tour with a tasting and bottling experience.