9 of the Oldest Whiskey Distilleries in the World

There are an overwhelming number of distilleries in the world, and there seem to be more popping up every day. That being said, there are also companies that have been distilling whiskey for centuries.

We have searched distillery licensing records and dug through the often obscure company histories to find the oldest whiskey distilleries in the world.

1896 - Benromach Distillery, Scotland


The charmingly unassuming Benromach Distillery is located in the rolling countryside of Forres, Scotland. It was founded in 1896 by Harvey Logan and James McDonald, who set up a distillery to produce malt whisky from local barley - and it still does today.

In the 20th century, the distillery changed hands at least five times and often eked out a shadowy existence for decades.

In 1993, however, the distillery was sold to Gordon & MacPhail, who turned it into a year-round producer. The distillery was completely refitted before being officially opened by Prince Charles in 1998. Subsequently, a range of Benromach Single Malt Expressions was introduced, which today form an important part of Gordon & MacPhail's portfolio.

1870s - Jack Daniel's Distillery

No list would be complete without good old Jack Daniel's, the oldest registered distillery in the U.S., as a sign on the side of one of the distillery buildings proudly reveals.

While the exact date Jack began distilling whiskey is unknown, records show that he learned the craft from a lay preacher who was making moonshine on the side. Jack took over the business and moved it to its present location in 1884.

Tours of the iconic distillery are available year-round, with the exception of Christmas Day. Reservations are required.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of Jack Daniel's, read our article: The Success Story of Jack Daniel's Success Story

1791 - Glenfarclas Distillery, Scotland 

Glenfarclas is another centuries-old distillery that still produces whiskey today. The distillery was founded in the 1790s but did not receive a distilling license until 1836 when it was operated by Robert Hay.

In 1865, it was purchased by John Grant. The distillery was passed on to his son William and then to his grandson Hector and is now run by Hector's son John Grant since 1989.

Glenfarclas is one of the last remaining distilleries in Scotland that is still family-owned - now in the sixth generation of the Grant family. 

Glenfarclas began producing single malt whisky in 1926 and is now one of the few independent distilleries to produce all of its own whisky in-house. Glenfarclas was a relatively undiscovered gem even in Scotland, but that seems to be changing, and the distillery is becoming increasingly well-known.

1786 - Strathisla Distillery, Scotland

This 18th-century distillery is believed to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland. It was originally known as Milton Distillery, as it was located near the ruins of Milton Castle. It was founded in 1786 by George Taylor and Alexander Milne. Both men were involved in the flax processing industry and were looking to diversify their business interests.

During World War II the distillery lost its glory when it was run over by London bootleggers. In 1949, the then owners of the distillery were declared bankrupt due to unpaid tax bills. Fortunately, it was bought at auction in 1950 for 71,000 pounds by the Chivas Brothers, who turned it into the home of the legendary Chivas Regal

Little has changed in its appearance since then, and visitors today can stroll through the original cobbled courtyard or admire the distinctive double pagodas.

1784 - Old Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland

Bushmills is the oldest licensed distillery in Northern Ireland. Its history dates back to 1608, when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips a license to distill whiskey in the area of the River Bush in County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. 

However, the Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself was not founded until 1784. The distillery building was erected in 1885, and the famous Bushmill whiskey has been produced there ever since. 

Their single malt even survived the introduction of a special tax in Ireland in the mid-19th century. When the tax on grain was increased and many distilleries changed their recipe, Bushmills persevered and absorbed the higher cost to maintain consistency.

This paid off, as over the course of the 1800s and 1900s, Bushmills Irish whiskey evolved into an award-winning whiskey that was popular around the world.Today the smooth blend of Bushmills appeals to a range of palates and is enjoyed worldwide by whiskey lovers.

Related: The History of Irish Whiskey

1779 - Bowmore, Scotland 

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 on which Bowmore stands in 1766, and set up the Bowmore distillery dates in 1779. As with almost all Scottish distilleries, it changed hands over the course of its century-long existence. 

Most significantl, was the 1963 purchased by famed 20th century whisky broker Stanley Morrison. He eventually changed the name to Morrison Bowmore Distillers, Ltd.

In 1994, the Japanese drinks conglomerate Suntory acquired Morrison Bowmore. Following Suntory's 2014 acquisition of Jim Beam, Bowmore became part of Beam Suntory.

Bowmore has established itself as one of the best in the business when it comes to producing peated whiskies with distinctive smoky flavors. Peat - decayed, organic matter burned for fuel - is abundant in Islay and imparts a strong aromatic flavor to malted barley, giving the finished spirit a remarkable peaty taste.

Related: A Brief History of Japanese Whisky

1775 - Buffalo Trace, Kentucky, US

Dating back to the early 1770s Buffalo Trace is the oldest distillery in the United States. 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, built in 1792, although the distillery officially began production in 1775. Unlike most 18th century distilleries, it survived the Prohibition and was one of the lucky few to receive a permit to produce medicinal whiskey.

Much of Buffalo Tarce's success can be attributed to Elmer T. Lee, the distillery's first master distiller. During his time at the distillery from 1949 until his retirement in 1985, he literally saved the bourbon industry. In the 1940s, E. H. Taylor, Jr. worked with Colonel Blanton to develop the first single-barrel bourbon. 

This was the first premium bourbon and American consumers fell in love with it. In 1984, Buffalo Trace Distillery began using the same process when it released the first single estate bourbon, George T. Stagg. This was followed by releases in the Antique Collection, which has become one of the most coveted collections in the whiskey world. 

In 2013, Buffalo Trace Distillery was declared a National Historic Landmark, in large part because it's the oldest continuously operating distillery in America.

The distillery is located in Frankfort, Kentucky, and is now owned by the Sazerac Company.

1763 - Glenturret Distillery, Scotland

Although officially founded in 1763, Glenturret's distilling tradition dates back to 1717. In the intervening years, it was run by illegal distillers who sought to avoid paying taxes to England. As a result, Glenturret claims the title of the oldest operating distillery in Scotland. 

Glenturret has not always been in operation. During World War I and the Prohibition movement in the United States, the distillery lay idle for more than three decades and did not reopen until 1957. The distillery was purchased by James Fairlie, who had a vision of restarting the original stills and resuming distillation.

He remained as master distiller for 20 years. In 1980, Glenturret opened one of the first ever Scotch whisky distillery visitor centers. Today it is owned and operated by the Lalique Group, a French lifestyle company.

1757 - Kilbeggan Distillery, Republic of Ireland

Located in the town of Kilbeggan on the River Brosna, Kilbeggan Distillery is the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland. It was founded in 1757, when Matthew MacManus obtained a license to produce whiskey.

Throughout its history, the distillery has experienced ups and downs. In the 1830s, half of the Irish population pledged abstinence from alcohol as part of the Cork Total Abstinence Society movement. This dealt a severe blow to the country's whiskey production. As if that wasn't enough, later in the century the distillery was hit by a fire that destroyed part of the facility. 

The Prohibition movement in the U.S (its main export market) and later a tax increase in Ireland led to the closure of the distillery in 1957. 

In 1982, a group of locals formed the Kilbeggan Preservation and Development Association and raised funds for restoration. The distillery was reopened to the public as a museum.

In 1988, the distillery was acquired by Cooley Distillery, along with the license to produce whiskey under the Kilbeggan and Locke's Whiskey brands.

Distillation at the distillery resumed in 2007, 250 years after the first license was granted. Today, the Killbeggan distillery is part of Beam Suntory.

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