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 San Jose were a highlight for us so we were excited to see what this tropical metropolis had in store.
Beers in Panama
In Panama there are 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 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 beer we had in Panama. 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 but what we drank tasted nothing close to Guinness and instead had notes of alcohol, licorice, baby vomit, and some unpleasant sourness.
Craft Beers in Panama
It was nice to see some 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, you can actually drink the tap water without fear of stomach issues. So when we drank the tap water, we found it came with a disagreeable dirt taste that we discovered was often imparted into some of the beers that used the water supply for their brewing.
Here’s what we thought of the different craft beers and microbreweries in Panama:
Casa Bruja is a home brewery operation that produces roughly a half dozen or so different varieties (blonde, amber, stout, barley wine). There is no brewpub to visit but they distribute about a dozen bars/restaurants across Panama City. 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 from Casa Bruja.
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 of ours for all of 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.
Beer Places in Panama
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 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, they have 2-for-1 pints on happy hour from 3:00-7:00 Monday-Friday, making this the best 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 80s & 90s alternative rock & pop make the waiting a 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 necessarily meant to be a comprehensive guide. Yet we feel compelled to provide you with another source of beer spots if you’re on the hunt for a nice pint while in the country. BeerAdvocate and ratebeer listings fell short for Panama and we found out about the places we visited by happenstance or from recommendations beer-loving locals. That said, Casa Bruja’s website lists all the places they distribute to. Any establishment that serves this microbrewery’s beer may have other goodies on tap too. And if not, at least you know you can enjoy some Casa Bruja! So check their website, go exploring, and please drop us a comment if you’ve found anywhere interesting.
Final Thoughts on Beers Around Panama
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 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.