Urban Explorations Urban Explorations

Where to Go to Visit the Oldest Breweries in America

To commemorate National Beer Day, throw back a cold one for history

How will you celebrate National Beer Day? (© SuperStock/Corbis)

Eighty-two years ago, at 12:01 a.m. on April 7, 1933, celebrations broke out at breweries across the country—it was finally once again legal to open up a cold one. The Cullen-Harrison Act (signed into law by President Roosevelt a few weeks before) went into effect that night, allowing for the sale and consumption of beer of up to 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. While the act also allowed certain low-alcohol wines to be produced, it was the beer industry that truly celebrated this fortunate turn of events. When the clock struck a minute past midnight trucks emerged from the breweries, ready to deliver cases of beer to a thirsty nation. The famed Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales also made their first appearance that day, clattering down the streets of New York City, beer in tow and thousands cheering them on. While Prohibition wouldn’t officially be overturned until few months later, April 7 has been marked by beer enthusiasts as the day to celebrate, and is now known as National Beer Day.

Historians seem to agree that President Roosevelt signed the act in an effort to create jobs and tax revenue, not out of his own love for beer. That said, a myth persists that President Roosevelt exclaimed “I consider this ought to be a high-quality time for a[n] ale” upon adding his autograph to the act.

As President and CEO of the Beer Institute Jim McGreevy points out, no one is quite sure when or who first celebrated National Beer Day. “We are not sure of the exact origin of the day, but it certainly celebrates an important moment in American history,” he notes. That said, McGreevy knows exactly where he’ll be: “I’m going to be in a bar with some folks, raising a glass to the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Act.”

Here are five of the oldest breweries in America that would be happy to have you celebrate National Beer Day with them: 

DG Yuengling & Son Inc.

It may come as a surprise that Yuengling is actually the oldest brewery in America. Founded in 1829 by German immigrant David G. Yuengling, it was originally called Eagle Brewery. To get through Prohibition, the company made ice cream, which can still be purchased. Since 1831, the building on Mahantongo Street in the small Pennsylvania town of Pottsville has acted as the company’s headquarters and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. You can still visit the nearly 200-year-old beer-making facility today.

The Coors Brewery

When Adolph Coors immigrated to the United States in 1868, he brought a long tradition of German beer-making with him. He established Golden Brewery in 1873 and, within ten years, the establishment was turning a hefty profit. When Prohibition hit Colorado a few years earlier than the rest of the country, Coors transitioned to making porcelain, distilled alcohol for pharmacies and malted milk. After Adolph Coors passed away tragically, the family had a rather fraught history, but Coors remains one of the largest breweries in the country and provides tours five days a week.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Pabst actually went under several different names—including Empire Brewery and Phillips Best—before settling on today’s familiar moniker. The “Blue Ribbon” nickname came in the 1880s after the company tied a blue silk ribbon around the neck of its beer to commemorate receiving a gold medal for taste at America’s Centennial Celebration in 1876. While the factory and headquarters has moved to Los Angeles, the old headquarters and mansion can still be toured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Minhas Craft Brewery

Despite 15 different owners, Minhas Craft Brewery has been operating out of the same facilities in southern Wisconsin for the last 160 years. They claim to be the Midwest’s oldest brewery and the second-oldest in the country. However, many Americans may be less familiar with Minhas than other brands because the company tends to produce beer for larger distributors, including Trader Joe’s Simpler Times brand and Costco's Kirkland Signature line. Their brewery tour and museum boasts beer memorabilia, prints and lithographs dating back to the mid-19th century; the collection is billed as "the largest museum of its kind." 

The Anheuser-Busch Brewery

Anheuser-Busch is the largest brewer in the world, and has about half the beer market share in the United States alone. They weren’t always number one, though. Adolphus Busch’s leadership and early adoption of technological advances—they were the first American brewery to pasteurize their produce and use refrigerated railroad cars—helped them became an American icon (at least until a Belgian company bought them in 2008). Today, they have factories across the country and interested drinkers can tour all of them.

About Matt Blitz

Matt Blitz is a history and travel writer. His work has been featured on CNN, Atlas Obscura, Curbed, Nickelodeon, and Today I Found Out. He also runs the Obscura Society DC and is a big fan of diners.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus