“Visit the world’s oldest brewery!”. My first thought, when I read this headline on a brochure, was of Weihenstephan Abbey. I’ve enjoyed this beer on numerous occasions around the world and the label proudly claims Weihenstephan to be the world’s oldest brewery. Located in Freising, Bavaria, just north of the Munich Airport, Weihenstephan has been recognised as a licensed brewery since 1040 AD (making it almost a thousand years old!!). It thus came as a surprise when I opened the brochure and saw that it referred to the Weltenburg Abbey (map), about 30km southwest of Regensburg.
Visiting the Weltenburg Abbey
The excursion to the Weltenburg Abbey was one of the offerings on the Viking Danube River Cruise I was on. Intrigued by this claim (and I can’t deny my love of beer), I signed up for this excursion to the “world’s oldest brewery”.
Getting there was a treat. This part of Bavaria, in southern Germany, is characterised by a hilly, thickly-forested landscape. It was early-autumn and we passed gorgeous patches of yellow, orange and red as we made our way to the abbey by bus from Regensburg. The bus dropped us off at Weltenburg village and we continued the rest of the way on foot, a short but scenic walk along the banks of the Danube River.
The Weltenburg Abbey is situated at a bend of the Danube River, close to the Danube Gorge. Founded in the 7th century AD, making it the oldest monastery in Bavaria, the monks at Weltenburg adopted the Benedictine order in the 8th century. Beer-brewing activities at the monastery started at around 1050 AD.
Our first stop was the abbey church. Built in the 18th century in Baroque style, the church features a stunning ceiling and altar (with a statue of St. George). Aside from visiting the church, there are also possibilities to go on a hike through the surrounding forests and see the excavations of Wolfgang’s Wall, remnants of a 10th century fort.
After a short stroll in the forest, I made my way to the biergarten (beer garden) for a beer-tasting and lunch. Weltenburg is famous for its Barock-Dunkel dark beer, which was absolutely superb! As I sipped this full-bodied brew, I caught hints of dark bread, caramel and a fruity finish. The other beer I truly enjoyed was the Hefe-Weissbier Hell, a wheat beer with a delicious taste of malt, banana and citrus, and a subtle hint of cloves.
After lunch, which consisted of delicious pork knuckles, Wiener sausage, Bavarian dumplings and salad, our guide had another treat in store for us. We walked to the nearby pier and boarded the Weltenburg boat for the village of Kelheim, on the other side of the Danube Gorge. The boat ride, past impressive limestone cliffs and forests, was absolutely beautiful!
Which is the world’s oldest brewery?
So, which is the world’s oldest monastic brewery: Weltenburg or Weihenstephan? Whilst Weihenstephan claims to be the world’s oldest brewery, Weltenburg makes the claim of being the world’s oldest monastic brewery. Both breweries began operations at around the same time (early 11th century) and available records provide conflicting views. Whatever the case is, they’re both REALLY OLD! I certainly enjoyed my visit and I’m now a fan of the beers from both breweries!
How to get to Weltenburg Abbey
Weltenburg Abbey is about a 30-minute drive from Regensburg. You’ll have to park in the Weltenburg village. However, I recommend parking in Kelheim instead and catching one of the frequent boats to Weltenburg Abbey. The scenery in the Danube Gorge is definitely worth the extra effort.