Is Kamnik the World Microbrew Capital?
I grew up in the United States but have been an expat for decades. My adopted hometown of Kamnik, population 13,000, nestled at the foot of the Alps and featuring three castles, can make a claim being the beer capital of Slovenia.
The town boasts four microbreweries (more, if we consider the greater Kamnik area), the largest of them are Maister Brewery and Mali Grad Brewery. They are indeed micro, but the quantity of them in one small alpine town is distinctive. In addition to these two larger microbreweries, you can find Menin'c (run by a farmer who grows his own hops) and Barut (run by a team of chemists who use very exotic, experimental methods and ingredients, like wild yeast). There is also Mister, which brews at the Mali Grad brewery, but from its own recipes, and whose owner hosts a weekly vlog on adventures in microbrewing.
Just why there are so many microbreweries in Kamnik is down to one thing: the water.
It turns out that Kamnik has unusually good, pure water. I always knew that the water from the tap tasted good, but water usually is only remarked upon if it tastes bad (or is some color other than transparent), so I hadn't given it much thought. Kamnik is an idyllic, pristine clean Alpine town, so it was no surprise that the water should be good here, but why is it better here than in the neighboring municipalities? I asked some of the brewers and they all told me that they chose Kamnik to brew their beer to take advantage of the water.
"It is very soft," said Miha from Barut Brewery, "which means that it is like a tabula rasa, a clean first layer into which you can mix other ingredients. If you have hard water, which will affect the taste of the beer, then you might have to treat it with chemicals before it is suitable to brew with." In Kamnik, the water straight from the tap is ideal.
Oddly enough, if you drive about five minutes out of town, the water is completed different. Anja of Mali Grad Brewery told me that the water in Nožice, a village a short drive from Kamnik, has water that is "hard," full of calcium deposits, so that when you boil water, a film develops. Her husband and fellow brewer, Urban, once prepared a stout in Nožice and thought it was great but couldn't make a good pale ale. When they moved their operations to Kamnik, his pale ale was perfect, but the stout had to be changed. The only difference was the water, but as Frenk from Menin'c said, "Water is the main ingredient in beer. We tend to think of hops or barley, but beer is mostly water. If the water isn't good, then the beer won't be good."
I've had the pleasure of tasting the local beers and interviewing the knowledgeable, passionate brewers. But I'm an American hungry for superlatives. I started to wonder whether Kamnik might actually be a superlative, hosting the most microbreweries per capita in the world.
First off, let's take a look at the competition, and then we'll do a bit of math.
In the US, Portland, Maine has the most microbreweries per capita, with one microbrewery per 3941 people. In Europe, Bamberg, Germany is the "beer capital" but it's claimed to fame are large-scale breweries (there are 9 major ones, and the number of microbreweries is not widely published). Focusing on the big 9 means that Bamberg has one big brewery per 7888 people.
But little Kamnik, Slovenia, population around 13,000, has one microbrewery per 3250 people-possibly the most per capita anywhere.
This would require more dedicated research (and someone better at math than I am) to determine officially, followed by a call to the Guinness World Records folks, but I think we've got a shot.
** If you would like to know more about Kamnik's microbreweries or how to spend time in Kamnik and its surroundings, then visit them at tourist office on Glavni trg in Kamnik or visit www.visitkamnik.com. You can follow them on Facebook Visit Kamnik or Instagram @visitkamnik. Kamnik is something you must experience! **