Everywhere Panama Trip Report

Discussion in 'Beer Travel, Events and Releases' started by JoeLikesBeer, Mar 17, 2014.

  1. JoeLikesBeer

    JoeLikesBeer

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2013
    Greetings Talkbeerers. I recently spent about 6 weeks in Panama City, Panama (Not the Florida one, and that one sucks because it screws up all your google results when you're looking for places)

    Anywhoooo, thought I'd post a trip report here since I am no longer willing to contribute any useful content to my former beer site of choice but I still want to share my findings. It may not be useful to most of you, but there's a lot of business being done in Panama and where there's money to be made, I figure there's 'muricans.

    Firstly, it is basically a craft beer wasteland. Don't get your hopes up. There are three major brands of lager that dominate: Panama, Atlas, and Balboa. They all suck, although I found Balboa to be the most tolerable. Don't expect anything decent to be served at any restaurant or hotel. That being said, there is a tiny budding brewpub scene there. During my visit I attended the second annual microbrew fest, which I just happened to be in town for, but "second annual" should give you some indication as to the infancy of the scene there. It was some good timing though because Ballast Point, Mission, and Lost Coast were all there with some actual hops for me to taste.

    Breweries/Brewpubs:

    La Rana Dorada (2 Locations)

    This is clearly the most successful one of the three in Panama City and the one most worth visiting, imho. Their best beer was just above mediocre and some of the offerings were below mediocre but they have some drinkable offerings. I had every beer they are currently brewing:

    • IPA (Limited rotation, no joke) - Their best beer. This would not be the best IPA at most homebrew club meetings but it had actual hop aroma and flavor.
    • Blanche - Their most popular offering. Light, with yeast character, and sessionable at 4%. I can see why it's popular.
    • Porter - I had a few of these and it grew on me. It was unadventurous.
    • Pale - Not worth drinking imho. Underhopped and boring.
    • Premium Pils - Nothing particularly of note. It didn't offend me but I didn't order another.

    There are two locations - One in Casco Viejo and another in El Cangrejo (Via Argentina). I preferred the Casco Viejo location for the setting, service, and the fact that it's the actual brewery, but El Cangrejo is also a fun area of the city. Both locations have decent pub fare. They had signs saying they are opening a third location soon in Costa Del Este (Nicer, but boring burb closer to the airport).


    Istmo Brew Pub (Also in El Cangrejo)

    Istmo is more like a bar that happens to have some old brewing equipment. Their beer smacks of poor temperature control in my estimation. I sampled two - Chiriqui (at the brewfest) & Colon (at the pub) both listed as pale ales. They had nothing besides Colon on tap at the brewpub, this was a common thing between Istmo and La Rana Dorada, not having all their beer available.

    Istmo also has food, it was edible. They have a nice outdoor seating area, pool tables, and live music occasionally. Even if you aren't a huge fan of the beer, it's a nice little spot.


    Casa Bruja (I don't think they have a pub, but maybe they do)

    Not sure what their deal is. They are listed everywhere as a home brewery but were on tap at two places I visited. I Sampled three of their beers whose names I forget - an IPA, A passion fruited hoppyish beer, and a Lager. The passion fruit one was the best but again, I thought that they aren't quite up to par on temp or yeast management with their beers.

    Stores:

    Brew Stop - https://www.facebook.com/pages/BREW-STOP/724664284212190

    This place just opened in January and I would never have found it if not for the owner (James) being a former co-worker of a companion I met in Panama. They are trying their best to get good craft beer down there. Almost all the beer they had was Rogue, North Coast, and Lost Coast with a few other offerings. They also had Casa Bruja on tap and some snack type food.

    To be honest, their selection would be dwarfed by most gas stations on the I-5 corridor but, after chatting with the owner, I'm reasonably confident that will improve. Give them your business if you're there because they're doing God's work.


    Felipe Motta (Multiple Locations)

    This is like the Panama equivalent of Total Wine. The wine & Liquor selection is top notch. The beer selection is limited but there are some British, European, and US imports to be had. Lost Coast being the only craft of the latter I saw. One of the stores was basically behind my hotel so I ended up stocking up mostly on London Pride, London Porter, Chimay Red, and Leffe Brune.


    Bars:

    In general, the best nightlife areas were Casco Viejo and El Cangrejo for sit down, have a beer, hear a band type stuff. Check out Luna's Castle Hostel in Casco Viejo (The old colonial part of the city). There's a stone courtyard with a bar. They also had Casa Bruja on tap and the place is full of gringo backpackers if you're... um... trying to find something.


    Other:

    It isn't a third world country. I drank the water at restaurants, I ate everything, I didn't get sick. Panama City is very Americanized and you will encounter a lot of expats. Panamanians seemed very friendly, non-confrontational, & timid to me for the most part. I am a laid back west coast type guy and think that I was turned up a little too loud for most of them at times. Can't imagine what kind of fire-breathing monster Bostonians must seem like to them.

    I found the food unremarkable for the most part with the one exception being the seafood, particularly the ceviche. There were many varieties of it and it was delicious everywhere I had it. Don't expect spicy anything. Locals are wimps when it comes to any sort of heat in the food. It's definitely not Mexico.

    The service is slow and apathetic almost everywhere. Be prepared to call your server over whenever you need something, including the check. There were some exceptions, but not many.

    A sport called "High Heels Tight Clothing" is apparently the national pastime for women down there. I wasn't complaining.

    Taxis are super cheap and everywhere. They are also opening a subway soon. I would not recommend driving at all in the city.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2014
  2. Trady

    Trady Moderator Staff Member

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  3. JoeLikesBeer

    JoeLikesBeer

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  4. Trady

    Trady Moderator Staff Member

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    LYLAS
     
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  5. jmgrub

    jmgrub

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    Aug 25, 2013
    Location:
    Westside, Los Angeles, CA
    I also recently vacationed in Panama with my girlfriend (was probably there at the same time as you JoeLikesBeer. I dragged my girlfriend to the Casco La Rana Dorada location as well. My main memory is of a stray dog taking a fatty dump on the concrete right next to our table as we were drinking the blanche (the only beer they had on draft because of high demand). It was honestly a charming place, and our waitress was very friendly. I tried to talk to the brewer, but he was not around.

    In Boquete, in the mountainous northern region, we stumbled upon a great restaurant run by an ex-pat. At that restaurant, they served essentially homebrews by a local expat homebrewer who brought his setup down from the states. His porter/stout whatever was probably the best beer I had on the trip.

    In Bocas del Toro, I saw a tiny micro-brewery on the way to Starfish Beach from Bocas Town. Didn't have time to stop, but it looked like the perfect place to have a beer, right on the beach there.

    Visit Panama, it's awesome. Nice thread JoeLikesBeer
     
  6. JoeLikesBeer

    JoeLikesBeer

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    Nov 11, 2013
    Jealous you got to go up to Boquete.
     
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  7. BusinessSloth

    BusinessSloth

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    This thread is highly relevant to my interests. I'm leaving for panama city in a few weeks. hoping to try some new beers and hopefully find some .rar bourbon sitting on shelves. Hoping for limited 4 roses. I need something to hold me over until the TalkBeer stuff is ready.

    I'll add anything I can to this thread when I return.

    And i have been to Panama before on volunteer work. Stayed there for a few months. Badass country. I was young and not into beer at the time, so I mostly got hammered on rum and coke the entire time.


    As an added bonus, I'm just going to leave this here of a Panamanian chick serving beer in a supermarket

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
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  8. [​IMG]

    Shit, now I gotta decide between Panama and Cuba. . .



    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  9. BusinessSloth

    BusinessSloth

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    Sep 27, 2013
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    definitely Panama. See my post above.
     
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  10. BusinessSloth

    BusinessSloth

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Just to add to your points. The food is absolutely phenomenal at higher end places in Panama City. Quite comparable to fine dining in the U.S. Maybe I'm just showing my Hispanic heritage, but I love the local food too. It's very Central American themed.

    It is an international type city and you'll find all kinds of ex-pats down there. Absolutely agree on DO NOT DRIVE THERE. It's like the fucking thunderdome on the roads. Take a taxi everywhere. They're reliable and cheap for the most part. If you're taking a taxi from the Tocumen airport into Panama City, I am 99% sure there is a price set by the government to prevent price gouging by the taxis. Make sure to double check this exists, and what it is. I believe it was around $32, but that was almost 7 years ago.

    Panama has their own currency called Balboa, but you don't need it really. Nearly the entire country takes USD, plus Balboa and USD are the same in value if I recall.

    Crime is not a frequent occurrence. Don't travel alone if you can help it, do NOT go on the buses that travel through ghetto areas, pretty women flirting with you usually have an accomplice stealing your wallet while you're distracted, and Panama has no standing army. They do have a national police force though. You can often see them riding in pairs on motorcycles, and they typically carry magnum revolvers and sub-machine guns like Uzi's. You'll also see police vehicles patrolling around. They seemed pretty chill, but very alert. Finally, the police do have officers that walk on foot through popular tourist areas. Don't be afraid to ask them directions or report a crime. Most speak some English.

    That's all I can remember off the top of my head. Happy to answer any questions anyone may have. I will write up my own report on beer, food, and hotels when I get back in a few weeks. Cheers!


    EDIT: Just wanted to add that the Panama canal was fairly boring, and that was a general consensus shared by most people there. Yes it's cool mechanically and engineer perspective, but other than that it's super boring. There is a museum about the canal on-site that is much more interesting.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2015
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  11. JoeLikesBeer

    JoeLikesBeer

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    Nov 11, 2013
    Have fun dude. I am envy.

    Maybe I was a bit harsh on the food. Segundo Muelle was top notch.
     
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  12. BusinessSloth

    BusinessSloth

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    Sep 27, 2013
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Eh. I get it. It really depends on where you eat though. You can have some world class stuff there. That gelato shop on the southeast corner of the city is owned by French, and it's BOMB. The espresso maker is Italian too.
     
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  13. JoeLikesBeer

    JoeLikesBeer

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2013
    Oh god coffee we would call gourmet or artisan in the US, even in the PNW, was the norm everywhere there. I guess it makes sense considering the tradition in Central America. I looked forward to the first sip every day.
     
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  14. BusinessSloth

    BusinessSloth

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    Houston, Texas
    Oh that's pretty consistent all over CA like you said. I've had fresh Honduran coffee harvested a 5 minute hike from where I drank it. It makes most other coffee seem like swill.
     
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  15. jtmartino

    jtmartino

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    Jan 15, 2014
    Location:
    West
    I went there - Bocas Brewery. Beer is average homebrew quality, but the location is amazing. Their outdoor deck seating area, under the trees and on the beach, is unbeatable.

    If you can get over the garbage all over the beach in in the water.

    Bocas town is fun, but it's such a tremendously dirty town. The locals clearly don't have the time or energy to place their trash inside the garbage cans and dumpsters made available to them, so instead they throw it on the sides of the road, and on the beach, and in the water. The only value of the region is when you're away from Bocas Town; we stayed at an off-the-grid type place called Bocas Villas that were overwater bungalows. It was awesome.

    That said, Bocas Town doesn't offer any substantial local food either. We went to probably 12 different eateries and it was mostly ex-pats making good pizza, or shitty tacos, or amazing falafel (at the falafel truck). Or other generic non-local food. Our trip consisted of self-cooked meals drenched in Hot Bocas sauce, exorbitant amounts of Balboa, and spending as much time in the water as possible.

    That said, go to the local botanical garden which is just past Bocas Brewery. That place was unbelievably cool.