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11 of the World’s Oldest Breweries

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Humanity has been enjoying beer for a really long time, as these still-running establishments can attest.

1. Stepan Razin Brewery

Founded In: 1795
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

No extant Russian brewery can claim seniority over this one. For those interested in learning more, its official museum has been entertaining and educating tourists since 1995.

2. St. James’ Gate Brewery

Founded In: 1759
Location: Dublin, Ireland

The home of Guinness (of which 13 million pints are consumed every St. Patrick’s Day), this brewery had fallen into disuse when Arthur Guinness acquired it by signing a “9000-year lease.” To commemorate that historic event, the company celebrated five annual “Arthur’s Days” from 2009 to 2013, which saw participants drinking in his honor at 17:59 (5:59 PM).  

3. Smithwick’s Brewery

Founded In: 1710
Location: Kilkenny, Ireland

Billed as “Superior Irish Ale,” Smithwick’s has been brewed for over 300 years. For comparison’s sake, America’s best-selling beer brand— Budweiser—has only been in production since 1876. Advantage: Ireland. 

4. Grolsch Brewery

Founded In: 1615
Location: Groenlo, Netherlands

Famed for generating what’s arguably the Netherlands’ most iconic lager, Grolsch is also that picturesque nation’s third-largest brewer.  

5. Stiegl Brewery

Founded In: 1492
Location: Salzburg, Austria

Fun fact: When he wasn’t composing or writing about his tuckus, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used to love chilling out with a pint of Stiegl.

6. Hubertus Brewery

Founded In: 1454
Location: Near Laa an der Thaya, Austria

There’s a pretty cool story behind the Hubertus Brewery logo. Adorning their bottle labels is the “stag of St. Hubertus,” which references a dream this medieval bishop’s said to have had. One night—the story goes—Hubertus envisioned a crucifix nestled above the head of a buck. Taking this as a heavenly sign, he proceeded to live out his remaining days with saintly vigor. 

7. Augustiner-Bräu

Founded In: 1328
Location: Munich, Germany

Get used to seeing a lot of Deutschland (and religious communities) on this list. Created by an Augustinian monastery, the monks who originally ran Augustiner-Bräu consumed a portion of their beer while selling the rest—tax-free—for profit. 

8. Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker & Co.

Founded In: 1302
Location: Cologne, Germany

There are reports of a brewery on 41 Eigelstein Street in Cologne from 1302. And though there have been a few wars and brewing stoppages, Gaffel is now among the 10 largest beer keg manufacturers in Germany.  

9. Bolten Brewery

Founded In: 1266
Location: Korschenbroich, Germany

The good people at Bolten operate the oldest Altbier (a style of traditional German ale) brewery in the world. 

10. Weltenburg Abbey Brewery

Roger, Flickr

Founded In: 1050
Location: Kelheim, Germany

Four hundred and thirty-three years separates the founding of this monastery (617) from the founding of the brewery (1050) (433 years is longer ago than the Spanish Armada!). Nearly another millennium later, Weltenburg Abbey’s beloved beers are still going strong. 

11. Weihenstephan Brewery

Founded In: 1040
Location: Bavaria, Germany

The world’s oldest continuously-operating brewery was born within Weihenstephan Abbey before being secularized in 1803 (today, it’s owned by the state of Bavaria). On a related note, you’re never too old to embrace social media: check out Weihenstephan’s official twitter page. 

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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