Steve Smith, an old friend of Jimmy's, reached out recently with an exciting proposition: He travels worldwide constantly for work and wanted to contribute to THHG! After much thought (2 or 3 seconds) we heartily agreed. Please welcome our newest contributor, the Frequent Flyer Guy, with a report from Panama!
Something's Brewing in Panama: Craft Beer
Like in many countries, beer options in Panama have been historically limited to large established domestic and international brands. SABMiller, for example, presently holds 66% market share in Panama, both through its indirect ownership of Panama's Cerveceria National (Atlas and Balboa brands), and as a result of its recent introduction of international brands like Miller Lite. But a fledgling craft beer movement is taking root and gaining momentum in Panama, and the prospects are looking bright for the nation's beer lovers.
The origins of the Panamanian craft beer movement can be traced to 2005, when the Istmo Brew Pub opened in the El Congrejo neighborhood of Panama City. After nearly 9 years in operation, Istmo's business definitely doesn't seem to have gone flat, drawing a large Friday night crowd of locals, ex-pats, and tourists when I visited. This is thanks in large part to its selection of house-made "cerveza artesanal", including the refreshing Istmo Colón (pictured), one of five varieties offered.
In the historic and now-trendy Casco Viejo neighborhood, the La Rana Dorada brewery has burst onto the craft beer scene. It currently features four diverse selections: a Belgian blanche, a German-style pils, an English-style pale ale, and a classic English porter. La Rana Dorada enjoyed a brisk business comprised mostly of locals when I visited, so much so that two of the four beer selections had sold out by the time I arrived later in the evening.
Adding to craft beer's momentum, Panama hosted its inaugural Micro Brew Fest in 2013, with Istmo Brew Pub and La Rana Dorada as two of the four domestic craft breweries participating, Also participating were Oregon's Rogue Ales and Scotland's BrewDog. 2013's success brought an expanded roster of 10 breweries in 2014, more evidence of growing interest in craft beers in Panama.
As I have traveled this past year and a half, the discovery of craft beers and breweries in unexpected places around the world has been surprising. Panama City, Bangkok, and even Shanghai are now home to thriving craft breweries, bringing to mind an image of Chairman Mao cheerfully sipping a hoppy IPA. No longer just a North American or European phenomenon, the craft beer movement has gone global, bringing choice and flavor to beer lovers everywhere.
Steve Smith is a software developer and former technology entrepreneur who is presently on a multi-year adventure exploring the food, drink, and culture of the world. Born in Detroit, Michigan, and based in San Francisco, California, he currently spends the majority of his time abroad. Steve's favorite international destinations include Paris, Bangkok, and Buenos Aires. His preference in bars tends toward neighborhood pubs, feeling that they offer the best opportunity to interact and meet new people while traveling. Some of Steve's favorite watering holes include San Francisco's R Bar, Finnerty's in New York, Le Galway Irish Pub in Paris, and The Game in Bangkok.