Before the arrival of Europeans in the New World, Native American tribes were already brewing beer made from maize, birch sap, and water. The earliest known records of beer from non-native peoples dates to 1587 and the very first commercial brewery in America was built in 1632. As more European immigrants moved to America, they brought their beer brewing traditions with them. From the early to mid-19th century, the first wide-scale American breweries were established by European immigrants, mostly from Germany. All of the breweries on this list survived Prohibition by either selling near-beers, sodas, or beer ingredients like yeast. Nearly all of the signature beers from these companies are nationally recognized brands and some of them are even sold around the world.
10. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Year Established: 1867
Founder: Jacob Leinenkugel and John Miller
Location: Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Oldest Beer: Leinenkugel’s Original Lager
Most Famous Beer: Leinenkugel’s Original Lager
The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company was founded by Jacob Leinenkugel, a Prussian immigrant, and his business partner John Miller. When the company first started out, Leinenkugel and Miller were the only two employees – Leinenkugel brewed the beer and Miller sold it. Miller sold his stake in the company in 1884 and Leinenkugel’s wife, Josephine, helped him to grow the business until her death in 1890. Leinenkugel continued to expand the brewery and added an icehouse, three-story malt house, bottling house, and copper shop and barns.
The company was passed down through the Leinenkugel family after Jacob’s death until it was sold to Philip Morris subsidiary Miller Brewing Company in 1988 so the company could stay solvent. Although the Leinenkugel family no longer owned the brewery, Miller kept them on to run its operations. After several attempts to bring Leinenkugel beer to national U.S. markets, Miller succeeded in 2007 with the debut of a Summer Shandy ale. Today, Leinenkugel is still owned by what is now known as MillerCoors and its president is still a member of the Leinenkugel family.
9. Frankenmuth Brewery
Year Established: 1862
Founder: Martin Heubisch and Wilhelm Knaust
Location: Frankenmuth, Michigan
Oldest Beer: Frankenmuth Hefeweizen
Most Famous Beer: Frankenmuth Hefeweizen
According to Frankenmuth Brewery, it is the oldest microbrewery and the first craft brewery in Michigan. The company’s history begins in 1862, when Wilhelm Knaust and Martin Heubisch, opened the Cass River Brewery. Over a decade later in 1874, Johann Geyer purchased the Cass River Brewery and renamed it Geyer Bros. Brewing Co. The brewery stayed in the Geyer family for the next 112 years before it was purchased out of bankruptcy by Ervin Industries and Ferdinand M. Schumacher. Schumacher changed the company’s name to Frankenmuth Brewery, Inc.
Schumacher sold the brewery in 1990 to Randall Heine. Under Heine’s leadership the brewery hit a production peak of 30,000 barrels distributed across 25 states in 1996. Unfortunately, that same year a tornado tore through downtown Frankenmuth and completely destroyed the brewery. It remained closed until a brew pub was opened in 2003, but this was closed down again when the Heine family could not afford to keep the brewery open. In January 2009, Haithem and Anmar Sarafa purchased Frankenmuth Brewery and the brewery and adjoining restaurant are doing well again.
8. August Schell Brewing Company
Year Established: 1860
Founder: August Schell
Location: New Ulm, Minnesota
Oldest Beer: Schell’s Original (Deer Brand)
Most Famous Beer: Schell’s Original (Deer Brand)
The August Schell Brewing Company was founded in 1860 by its namesake August Schell. He was a German immigrant who joined other German ex-pats to found the town of New Ulm, Minnesota. Unable to find a good German beer in the area, Schell partnered with Jacob Bernhardt and decided to build a brewery and make his own beer. In 1866, Schell bought out Bernhardt to take full ownership of the company. The Schell family still owns and operates the company and is the second oldest family-owned brewery in America after D. G. Yuengling & Son.
After August dies in 1891, he left the brewery to his wife Theresa. A few years later, his second oldest son Otto, who studied brewing in Germany, takes over the company and leads it in a new direction. He introduces refrigeration so Schell’s can brew year-round. Over the next century, Schell’s survives many ups and downs, including Prohibition, sudden family deaths, and nearly closing down. In 2002, Schell’s bought Grain Belt beer, making it both the oldest and largest brewery in Minnesota.
7. Stevens Point Brewery
Year Established: 1857
Founder: Frank Wahle and George Ruder
Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Oldest Beer: Point Special Lager
Most Famous Beer: Point Special Lager
Stevens Point Brewery was founded in 1857 by Frank Wahle and George Ruder. In 1864, Stevens Point provided beer to the troops in the American Civil War. A few years later, in 1867, Wahle and Ruder sold the company to Andrew and Jacob Lutz. The Lutz family continued to operate the company until they sold it to Gustav Kuenzel in 1897. In 1901, Kuenzel briefly named the company after himself, but changed its name to Stevens Point Brewing Company a year later.
Prior to Prohibition and the Great Depression, Stevens Point had several competitors in Wisconsin. Stevens Point was one of the only breweries to survive and produced soda and near-beers during Prohibition. In 1990, Stevens Point finally started selling its beer outside of Wisconsin, in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota. Point Special Lager, the company’s flagship beer, won the Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2003 and gained national recognition. Today, Stevens Point Brewery sells its products in over 25 states.
6. Miller Brewing Company
Year Established: 1855
Founder: Frederick Miller
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Oldest Beer: Miller High Life
Most Famous Beer: Miller Lite
The Miller Brewing Company was founded by Frederick Miller in 1855. Miller, who was already a brewmaster in Germany, emigrated to the United States in 1854 and brought a unique brewer’s yeast with him. He settled in Milwaukee and bought the Plank-Road Brewery, which was started by Frederick Charles Best and abandoned in 1854. After a few years, Miller built a beer garden and beer hall near the brewery, which attracted weekend crowds.
The company remained in the Miller family until 1966. That year, Lorraine John Mulberger, Frederick’s granddaughter (who did not like alcohol), sold the company to W.R. Grace and Company. A few years later, Philip Morris (now Altria) bought the Miller Brewing Company for $130 million, outbidding PepsiCo. In 2007, the company became MillerCoors after SABMiller and Molson Coors combined their U.S. operations in a joint venture. Today, the company is solely owned by Molson Coors, which has not changed anything for U.S. consumers.
Year Established: 1852
Founder: Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Oldest Beer: Budweiser
Most Famous Beer: Budweiser
Budweiser is probably one of the best-known American beers in the world and is nicknamed the King of Beers. It is the signature beer of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, which traces its history back to 1852. The brewery was initially called the Bavarian Brewery and Eberhard Anheuser was one of its owners. By 1860, Anheuser bought out the other investors and renamed the brewery E. Anheuser & Co. Adolphus Busch, who was a brewing supply wholesaler, formed a friendship with Anheuser and eventually married Anhueser’s daughter.
Busch went to work for his father-in-law and later purchased half of the brewery. In 1876, Busch and his friend, Carl Conrad, created an American-style lager and named it Budweiser. Busch was the first brewer to use pasteurization to keep the beer fresh for longer periods. He was also the first to use artificial refrigeration, refrigerated railcars and rail-side icehouses, which allowed the company to grow and distribute beer across the United States. In 1879, the company was renamed Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association to recognize Busch’s efforts.
4. Minhas Craft Brewery
Year Established: 1845
Founder: Mr. Bissinger
Location: Monroe, Wisconsin
Oldest Beer: Huber Bock
Most Famous Beer: Boxer Lager
The Minhas Craft Brewery has been operating for over 170 years in Monroe, Wisconsin. The company has changed ownership and names nearly a dozen times. It was first established in 1845 by a Swiss immigrant known as Mr. Bissinger. He named it the Monroe Brewery and it was initially only a winter operation that could only produce a few hundred barrels of beer a year.
The brewery was expanded and owned by five different people before Adam Blumer Sr. joined Jacob Hefty as a 50% owner in 1885. For the next 62 years, the brewery was owned by the Blumer family and they changed the company’s name to Blumer Brewing Company in 1906. In order to survive prohibition, the company changed its named to Blumer Products Company in 1920 and started making ice cream and non-alcoholic beer.
In 1947, the brewery changed ownership once again and was purchased by Joseph Huber. He changed the name to Joseph Huber Brewing Company and his family owned it until 1994. Today, the brewery is owned by Ravinder and Manjit Minhas.
3. Pabst Brewing Company
Year Established: 1844
Founder: Jacob Best
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Oldest Beer: Best Select (which is now Pabst Blue Ribbon)
Most Famous Beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon
The Pabst Brewing Company was founded in 1844 by Jacob Best and his sons as the Empire Brewery. They brewed 300 barrels of Best Select lager in their first year. In 1860, one of Jacob’s sons, Phillip, took over the company and changed its name to the Phillip Best Company. A few years later, Phillip’s daughter married Frederick Pabst, a steamship captain who sold his shipping interest to buy half of the company. Phillip later sold the other half of the company to his other son-in-law, Emil Schandein, who became vice president.
By the early 1870s, Phillip Best Company became the second largest brewery in the United States. Around this same time, Pabst became president of the company and he eventually changed its name one final time in 1890 to the Pabst Brewing Company. In 1876, the brand’s Best Select lager won the first of many awards and in 1882, Pabst began tying blue silk ribbons around the neck of each Best Select beer, to show that it was a first-place winner. Today, Pabst Brewing Company is owned by Eugene Kashper, who is committed to staying true to the company’s roots.
2. F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company
Year Established: 1842
Founder: Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer
Location: New York, New York
Oldest Beer: Schaefer Beer (American-style lager)
Most Famous Beer: Schaefer Beer
Schaefer Beer may not be the oldest brewery in America, but the company says that it produces the oldest American lager. The brewery was founded in 1842 by brothers, Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer. Frederick emigrated to the United States in 1838 and Maximilian came a year later. Maximilian brought a formula for lager, which was unheard of in the United States at the time. They worked hard and saved and finally opened their own brewery in 1842.
The Schaefer’s lager was immediately successful and the brothers eventually built a larger brewery to meet the growing demand. Although Schaefer was a top selling beer in the country at one point, by the early 1980s it was no longer a top national brand. The Schaefer family sold the company to the Stroh Brewery Company in 1981. In 1999, Stroh Brewery was acquired by the Pabst Brewing Company, which still retains the license to Schaefer’s beer. Pabst outsources a reformulated version of the beer and sells it in niche markets in the United States.
Year Established: 1829
Founder: David Yuengling
Location: Pottsville, Pennsylvania
Oldest Beer: Lord Chesterfield Ale and Porter
Most Famous Beer: Yeungling Lager
Yuengling is the oldest beer in America and has been around since 1829. It was one of the only early American breweries to survive prohibition because it produced “near bears”, which only had a 0.5% alcohol content. Due to its historical significance, Yuengling proudly calls itself “America’s Oldest Brewery.”
The company was founded by David G. Yuengling as the Eagle Brewery. Lord Chesterfield Ale and Porter were the first beers brewed by Yeungling and both are still produced today. The original brewery burned down in 1831 and the Yuengling moved to a new location, which is the site of the current brewery.
About four decades later, in 1873, Eagle Brewery changed its name to D.G. Yuengling and Son, when Frederick Yuengling joined his father in running the business. Although the brewery changed its name, it kept its iconic bald eagle logo. Over the years, the company has remained in the Yuengling family and its current owner is Richard Yuengling, Jr.