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Ten of the world’s oldest distilleries

The historical roots of distilleries around the world are somewhat muddied, but these 10 sites are generally thought to be some of the oldest distilleries in the world.

Ten-of-the-world's-oldest-distilleries
Identifying the origins of distillation can be a tricky business, but these are 10 of the world’s oldest distilleries

Historians, distillers and spirits fans have long debated which is the world’s oldest distillery for various spirits categories, with no definitive conclusion.

Tumultuous historical events such as war and Prohibition mean that official documentation of early distillation is rare, while illicitly-made spirits also elude records.

However, we have endeavoured to put together a list of those which are generally considered to be the oldest distilleries in the world.

Click through the following pages to see which 10 we have selected.

If you think we’ve missed an obvious choice, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Old Bushmills Distillery, est: 1608

Old-Bushmills-DistilleryNow owned by UK drinks giant Diageo, the Old Bushmills Distillery, based in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is the world’s oldest licensed distillery.

The Irish whiskey brand was officially given a registered trademark in 1784, yet its origins date back to 1608 when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips – landowner and Governor of County Antrim – a license to distil.

The distillery therefore claims to be the oldest licensed distillery currently in existence and has the date 1608 printed on its bottles.

All of the whiskey bottled under the Bushmills whiskey brand is produced at the Old Bushmills Distillery.

Mount Gay Rum Distillery, est: 1703

Mount-Gay-Rum-DistilleryMount Gay rum is the world’s oldest rum brand and its Barbados distillery is the oldest on the island having been established in the early 18th Century.

The brand and distillery is named after Sir John Gay Alleyne, 1st Baronet of Four Hill and trusted friend of John Sober who inherited the Mount Gilboa Plantation and Distilleries in 1747. Sir John Gay Alleyne became the manager of the company, which was given his name in 1801.

Last month, Mount Gay’s parent company Rémy Cointreau was forced to issue a statement to assuage fears that the distillery was closing down following inaccurate reports in local Barbados press.

Mount Gay Distilleries was acquired by French spirits group Rémy Cointreau in 1989.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, est: 1773

Buffalo-Trace DistillerySaid to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in the US, the Buffalo Trace distillery is based at a site which first started production in 1773.

Based in Frankfort, Kentucky, Buffalo Trace is named as such because it was erected where ancient Buffalo once roamed.

The main building of the Buffalo Trace distillery was built when Prohibition was first declared in the US in 1920, and was one of just a handful permitted to stay open to produce liquid for “medicinal purposes”

The oldest building on the site, the Riverside house, was constructed in 1792 by Commodore Richard Taylor and is still standing.

Glenturret Distillery, est: 1775

Glenturret_DistilleryAlthough the beginnings of the Glenturret Scotch whisky distillery are rather vague, it is thought the site received an official license to make and sell whisky in 1775, making it Scotland’s oldest whisky distillery.

Some historians have placed the beginning of whisky production at the distillery in the early 18th Century, when it is thought smugglers illegally operated the site.

However, the distillery cannot beat Strathisla’s title as the oldest continuously operating Scotch whisky distillery. It was closed for a large part of the 20th century due to the effects of the US prohibition and eventually fell silent in 1921.

The distillery’s stills were, however, fired up once again in 1959 when it was acquired by Rémy Cointreau. The distillery, which makes The Famous Grouse, is now owned by Edrington.

Bowmore Distillery, est: 1779

Bowmore-DistilleryEstablished in 1779, Scotch whisky distillery Bowmore began production over two centuries ago and is Islay’s first ever distillery.

Distilled on the South Eastern coast of the Inner Hebrides island, Bowmore’s peated single malt is owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, itself a subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings.

The distillery has an annual capacity of 2,000,000 litres, with fermentation undertaken in traditional wooden washbacks before the liquid is passed through two wash stills and then through two spirit stills.

It recently expanded its stable of assets on Islay with the acquisition of the Harbour Inn.

Laird Distillery, est: 1780

Laird-DistilleryLaird Distillery, based in New Jersey, was the first licensed distillery to be opened in the US in 1780.

The distillery is now the country’s last remaining producer of Applejack, a spirit that is distilled from apples and is aged for around 3 to 4 years in oak.

It claims to not only be the oldest distillery in the US, but also the 14th oldest family-run business.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have served Applejack at his tavern in the 1830s.

Strathisla Distillery, est: 1786

Strathisla-DistilleryStrathisla claims to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland, having first been established in 1786.

The name Strathisla first came into being as the nickname given to the spirit from the Milton Distillery. However, the name was formally adopted by the distillery in 1870.

Founded as the Milltown Distillery on land leased by the Earl of Seafield, the distillery was acquired by Chivas Brothers at auction for £71,000 in 1950.

The outer appearance of the distillery is said to have changed little since its inception, from its old cobbled courtyard to its double pagodas.

Plymouth Gin Distillery, est: 1793

Plymouth-Gin-DistilleryAlso know as The Blackfriars Distillery, the Plymouth Gin distillery is based in a converted Dominican Order monastery which was first built in 1431.

The distillery itself has been in operation since 1793 and is the last distillery in Plymouth.

Its prevalence soared during the Victorian era thanks to its popularity among the Royal Navy based in Plymouth.

Opening onto the city’s Southside Street, the original building still sits in the heart of Plymouth and displays its original distillation equipment.

Glen Garioch Distillery, est: 1797

Glen-Garioch-DistilleryThe official opening year of Highland whisky distillery Glen Garioch is printed in every one of its Scotch whisky bottles as 1797.

However, conjecture has abounded the distillery’s official opening, which may have been a little earlier than claimed since records show that the Aberdeen Journal printed on 1 December 1785 that the distillery has commenced production.

Surrounded by what is thought to be some of the best barley in Scotland, Glen Garioch sits in the sleepy Aberdeenshire village Old Meldrum.

The distillery has changed hands many times over the years and temporarily closed down in 1968. However, Stanley P Morrison, of what is now Morrison Bowmore Distillers, brought the distillery back from the brick of obscurity when he purchased it in 1970.

La Rojeña Distillery, est: 1812

La-Rojeña-DistilleryProducer of Diageo’s Jose Cuervo Tequila, Jalisco’s La Rojeña distillery was officially founded in 1812 and is the oldest operating distillery in Latin America.

However, the first Vino Mezcal de Tequila de Jose Cuervo was made in 1795 when Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo’s son Jose María Guadalupe de Cuervo was granted a permit from Spanish King Carlos IV to produce the spirit commercially.

Tequila was known as “mezcal de tequila” until 1893, when tequila makers and the Mexican government dropped “mezcal” from the name.

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