Panama was the last country we would drink beer in during our grand tour through all of Central America. In a land filled with pale lagers, we were eager to try some of the craft brew pubs we heard existed in Panama City. Previously the craft beers in Costa Rica were a highlight for us, so we were excited to check out the Panama craft beer.
Beers in Panama
In Panama, beer consists of four widely available pale lagers.
Cerveza Panama Lager (Pale Lager, 4.8%) was our favorite of the main beers in Panama. It was still a mostly tasteless watery yellow fizzy beer. But there was some corn sweetness, some very slight hop flavors and perhaps even a tad of sour citrus. So I suppose that gives it a slight edge over some of the other similar-styled beers we’ve subjected ourselves to. When looking for a watery macro beer in Central America, I’d choose this over many others.
Balboa (Pale Lager, 4.8%) wasn’t much different in taste from the Panama Lager. This watery beer probably had a bit more of the corn flavor and I couldn’t really pick up on any hops. Still it was refreshing at the beach and didn’t have any harsh off-putting tastes.
Atlas (Pale Lager, 3.8%) may have been the most popular beer in Panama and although it wasn’t awful, we preferred Panama Lager and Balboa more. Its lower ABV gives it less bang for your buck and a bit more watery than its peers. Nonetheless its still a decent beach beer in the hot sun if you’re looking for something bland to quench your thirst.
Soberana (Pale Lager, 3.8%) was the least abundant of the four major Panama beers and probably for good reason. It’s the most watery yet also a bit foul tasting. Any place carrying Soberana will also have one of the other three (above) beers, if not all of them. Drink one of the others instead. This is the second worst beer produced in Panama, in my humble opinion.
So what’s the worst Panama beer? You can find a Panama-brewed version of Guinness Extra Stout (Stout, 4.5%) often available in convenience stores and supermarkets. We were very excited to see this after having loved Belize’s Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. But we found Panama’s rendition of the classic stout to just be awful and was the worst Panama beer we had. It defies me how Guinness can even approve of the output from their licensing agreement. Maybe the cans we got had sat in the sun or spoiled. What we drank tasted nothing close to Guinness and instead had notes of alcohol, licorice, baby vomit, and some unpleasant sourness. (How’s that for a description!)
Panama Craft Beer
It was nice to see some Panama craft beers and brew pubs during our visit to Panama City. While there were only a few brews that really got our lips smacking, it was nice to still be able to try some other thoughtfully produced beers in Central America. One problem that I found evident in many of the brews was the unpleasant taste of the local water supply. Unlike in other Central American nations, in Panama City you can actually drink the tap water without fear of stomach issues. Yet when we drank the tap water, we found it came with a disagreeable dirt taste. Unfortunately we discovered this subtle taste was often imparted into some of the beers that apperently used the water supply for their brewing.
Here’s what we thought of the different craft beers in Panama and microbreweries in Panana City:
Casa Bruja is a home brewery operation that produces roughly a half dozen or so different varieties (blonde, amber, stout, barley wine). We were only fortunate enough to come across their IPA, Chivo Perro. It was delightfully reminiscent of any great IPA you can find back stateside. This was our favorite beer throughout all of Panama and I regret not having to been able to try more Casa Bruja beers. They distribute about a dozen bars/restaurants across Panama City. You can buy their bottles beer at Felipe Motta Wine Store or for a bar with their brews on tap, try the Londoner Pub (More on this in the Panama Craft Beer Places section of this post.) This is definitely a worthwhile Panama craft beer to seek out.
Cerveceria La Rana Dorada is a local brewpub in which you can only find their beers at their two locations in Panama City. This was one of the breweries in which we felt the dirty water taste slightly came through in the beer, but they were still very drinkable and we very much liked the brewpub overall (see beer places below). They produce four different beers and here’s what we thought of each:
- La Rana Dorada Porter (Porter, 5.0%) was their best offering and a favorite among craft beers in Panama. It had heavy coffee notes and a tasty roastiness about it. A very solid beer.
- La Rana Dorada Blanche/Belga (Belgian Wit, 4.0%) was okay. It had light citrusy orange and lemon notes with some bitterness too. It had perhaps a bit of a Fruitloops or Fruity Pebbles taste to it with a tart finish. Not great but not bad at all either.
- La Rana Dorada Pale Ale (Pale Ale, 5.0%) was not a standout. It had notes of tropical fruits, black licorice, and soap with a decent hop punch to it. If searching for a hoppy APA or IPA in Panama, I’d recommend Casa Bruja’s Chivo Perro instead.
- La Rana Dorada Premium Pils (Pilsner, 5.0%) is a typical pilsner with some mild lemon notes to it. Very drinkable but nothing too interesting.
Istmo Brew Pub is Panama City’s other brewpub, which served up subpar quality beers to those of La Rana Dorada. During our visit only two of their five taps were flowing so we tried their Amber, Istmo Colce (4.2%) and their Pale Lager, Istmo Colón (3.8%). Neither was very memorable.
Panama Craft Beer Places
Casa Bruja, the brewery that produces what we think to be the best Panama craft beer, is only open on Saturdays for tours at 11:00 am and 12:30 pm. You can visit their site for more information and to make a reservation, although it is in Spanish and the Google translate function doesn’t work very well. The cost of the brewery tour is $15 which includes craft beer tastings and a souvenir pint glass.
The Londoner Pub is where we happened to stumble across Casa Bruja’s fantastic IPA, so we must praise it for that alone. But really it was a nice British-style pub located in an otherwise club-filled area. The clientele of this cozy, dark pub was mostly friendly expats. There were about ten taps filled with British beers, a few local macros, and two handles for Panama craft beer.
Cerveceria La Rana Dorada has two locations, one in the Financial District and one in Casco Viejo. The Casco Viejo location had a fun atmosphere and a sunny patio. However, during our visit they were completely out of beer (how does that happen?) Instead, we enjoyed our visit to their newer Financial District location.The brew pub had a warm dark wood interior, prompt service, and solid pub fare. Perhaps best of all, La Rana Dorada has 2-for-1 pints on happy hour from 3:00-7:00 Monday-Friday, making this the best craft beer bargain in all of Panama. Go on and pay a visit to the Golden Frog (translation of “La Rana Dorada”)
At Istmo Brew Pub an interesting mix of locals and foreigners packed this establishment on a Friday night. The prices were reasonable and the pub grub was good. The beer, on the otherhand, was mediocre at best. It was still a fun yet somewhat grungy place to grab a bite and try a few new beers, even if they did underwhelm. Service is a tad on the slow side but the good 80’s & 90’s alternative rock & pop make the slight wait tolerable.
Other beer places in Panama: We couldn’t possibly visit all of the beer places in Panama during our stay and this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. So if you can recommend any other great Panama craft beers, let us know in the comments. BeerAdvocate and ratebeer listings fall short for Panama and we found out about the places we visited by happenstance or from recommendations beer-loving locals. That is actually what spurred us to write this post about craft beer in Panama, so we could share some of our discoveries. We’ll actually be returning to Panama City in May 2016 and we hope to explore some more Panama craft beer during that visit and then update this post. We’d love to hear any Panama craft beer recommendations you may have.
Final Thoughts on Panama Beer
The beer in Panama is all right and is our third favorite country for beer in Central America (following Costa Rica and Mexico). If drinking the local swill, it’s advisable to stick to the Panama Lager and Balboa, which we found to be marginally better than the abundance of other pale lagers in Central America. Craft beer in Panama is slowly starting to bubble up in Panama City and Casa Bruja is definitely worth seeking out, whether at the Londoner one of the other locations which taps its kegs. La Rana Dorada is also very worthy of a visit, particularly during 3:00-7:00 when pints are on happy hour! Try their very good porter. Have you had any good craft beer in Panama? We’re coming back! So please let us know in the comments.