In Havana I joined a group of carpenters, plumbers and electricians for a game of…
The Porter was the best.
In the glass it was brown and turned ruby where the light shined through the liquid. The head was a nice auburn and the taste was a perfect mix of chocolate, coffee and the slightly tannic taste that comes from roasted barely. It was a little sweet but not on the offensive side.
“Swarthy,” said an American guy standing next to me. I looked him over and thought he was talking about himself.
“Ya. This is a swarthy beer. That’s what I’d call it.”
Swarthy. Ok. I’ll go for that.
Outside of the horribly over-priced and imported Belgian beers on tap at the Atlapa Convention Center in Panamá City, Panamá, the only beer worth drinking at Panama’s First Annual International Beerfest was from La Rana Dorada. In my opinion, THE BEST microbrewery in Panamá City Panamá.
I was fortunate enough to attend the festival in the company of local wine, beer and food expert El Maridaje and his lovely sister, Maria Elena. They led me around the center explaining which beer maker came from where and explaining that German immigrants at the turn of the 20th Century had strongly influenced the Panamanian beer culture. We bought a sausage.
The giant modern hall of the Atlapa was filling up with beer drinkers at a neat clip. Some descendents of the German immigrants were selling sausages and a pretty rough brew that I couldn’t finish. The line outside the men’s bathroom was impressive. The one outside the women’s bathroom was riotous. The Bucanero ladies were wound up and flirty. Stella Artois, Soberania and Balboa were flowing freely.
The band was far too loud.
I sought out the owners and brewers of La Rana Dorada for an interview.
The Best Microbrewery Panama City Panama
There are preciously few microbrews in Panamá. The Istmo Brew Pub was the first, running since 2005. There is also Casa Bruja and La Cerveceria Legítima. By far, my favorite was La Rana Dorada, an offshoot of the increasingly famous Bogota Beer Company of Colombia
The La Rana Dorada microbrewery has two locations. The one on Via Argentina has some decent food but the better cervecería is located just at the entrance to Casco Viejo where crowds pack the outside patio. The interior, done up in a classic English Pub style with a long wooden bar, tall wooden stools and walls covered in beer paraphernalia, is also a hopping spot – especially on a Friday night.
The Beers and the Operation – An Interview with Jacky Yaffe of La Rana Dorada
We sat down in the noisy hall and I asked him first to describe the different beers for me. Yaffe poured a glass of the Premium Pilsner, a clear, yellowish beer. “We use the Hallertauer hops for this. You’ll notice them right off. We also use Vienna Malts and a two-row barley. It is 5% alcohol and 21 IBU.”
I’m not a big fan of pilsners but with the grain taste outweighing the fruitiness, this one was pretty good.
The orange-colored Pale Ale was a good follow up. It was sweet and fresh and easy to drink. It was also 5% alcohol and 30 IBU.
The Blanche however just didn’t suit me. This foggy beer was like a light version of a Belgian Wit but with a strong orange and coriander taste.
“Not that one, huh?” Yaffe said and laughed. I must have scowled deeply at the taste. “No worries.” He called out to the guy at the tap and rather swiftly I was holding the yummy, swarthy porter in a fresh glass.
Tell me a little about yourself
“Well. I am Colombian. Not Panamanian. I came here to Panamá to start something different. I said to my partners in Colombia and say, why not start something in Panamá? So, you know, the Bogota Beer Company has been around about 15 years and working with them we started up the brew pub on Vía Argentina in 2010. The Panamanian pale lagers are actually pretty good. But after awhile you want something more interesting. But what would it be? We really wanted to feel out the Panamanians and see what types of beer they wanted. We wanted to work with the Panamanian culture to get the right beers. So after two years of investigations we came up with the recipes that give us the beers you have here. Then, about a year ago we opened the location in Casco Viejo.”
So, while your beers are suited to the Panamanian culture. I don’t find them to be anything like the typical beers most Panamanians drink. What beer culture do you pull from for your recipes and your tastes?
“Panamá has not developed a taste for darker beers. We can’t be too aggressive with the taste here so the beers have to be light and for warm weather. The Blanche is inspired by xc Belgium type beers. The Pilsner is more Germanic. The Pale Ale is xc and the Porter is what I call “London-style”. These are all introducing the idea of unfiltered beer to Panamá.”
Tell me about your brew master?
“Brad Kraus. He is from your area. He is from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Brad has been brewing for more than 30 years. He has been a judge at the American Beer Festival and many other international beer festivals. Brad came to Colombia about fifteen years ago. At that time, nobody wanted to go to Colombia, you know. He went down there to sell beer making equipment I think. And that is when he met up with our Colombian partner and they started talking about making a new kind of beer for the Colombian and Central American market. Now he lives here in Panamá with us.”
What about the food at the brew pubs? I had the excellent ceviche at the Casco Viejo Location, but what about the rest?
“At the Argentina location we focus on ‘pub food’. Fish and chips, nachos, buffalo wings. Things like that. At the Casco Viejo location we focus on pizza and ceviche. Our goal is to make sure we are delivering a high quality food product – just like with our beers. We take the time to seek out the best ingredients.”
Speaking of ingredients, do you make any attempt to source your beer ingredients locally or regionally?
“Right now, we just can’t get ingredients locally. We have to import everything from the United States. Malt and hops are very picky. You can’t just grow them anywhere. Any tropic areas would be very difficult for them in to grow. I know they do it in Childe and Argentina but here in Panamá…well, you’d have to find just the right micro climate. The other thing is that malt is hard to process. You need a ton of equipment and space. And there really isn’t the market yet to support that kind of operation yet. This is a potential market for Panamanians and Colombians and Costa Ricans to get into though. We would buy local if we could.”
What are your plans for the next 2-3 years?
“You know, it feels good to be one of the first. And we’ve already achieved that. So next we’d like to open a few more pubs in Panamá. We want to stick with Colombia and Panamá so you won’t be seeing us up in Taos, New Mexico anytime soon. And probably not even Costa Rica. Latin America is the place to be. If you want to be on the precipice of something big, come here. I don’t feel like going anywhere else anytime soon.”
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IF YOU GO
Cervecería La Rana Dorada
Avenida Eloy Alfaro Con Calle 11 Este (Casco Viejo)
Ciudad de Panamá
Pub La Rana Dorada
Vía Argentina #20 Local 1 (frente a Cabeza de Einstein)
Ciudad de Panamá
Facebook: La Rana Dorada Pub