March 6, 2012

Panama Brews Part 2: The Imports (or Are They?)

Panama City, located on the Southern access of the Panama Canal, is considered by many to be the economic hub of Latin America. Each year, roughly 14,000 ships pass through the Canal, which in 2011 generated some $1.7 billion in revenue for this developing country. These numbers will surely increase with the ongoing Canal Expansion Project. Not surprisingly, economic activity like this attracts international attention -- which translates directly to the selection on the beer aisle.

The Germans are well represented. We can find Paulaner, Erdinger, Schneider-Weisse, Spaten, Licher, Kostrizter, and Konig Pilsener, among others, at the upscale supermarket Riba Smith.

The Paulaner Hefe-Weiss has long been one of my favorites, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the Licher Weizen. Kostrizter is a classic Swarzbier (Black Beer), but be sure to take note of the "Best By" date before you purchase. Konig Pilsener is a great beer for the Panama heat.






The Belgians also have their fair share of shelf space. Check out this excellent sampler, including beers from Augustin, Leute, Gulden Draak, and Piraat that some friends of mine found at the liquor store La Fiesta on Via Argentina. The Augustin Grand Cru was very nice and the Gulden Draak is in a league of its own.








Leffe, Le Trappe, Affligem, Chimay, Duvel, Corsendonk, and Hoegaarden are also easy to find. We found the Leffe Brun goes very nicely with dark chocolate and the Affligem Blond pairs well with butter and garlic seafood dishes.












From the UK we have representation from the very respectable Fuller's line-up. The London Pride and ESB are good session beers, while the London Porter is one of the best porters I've had. Newcastle, a good craft beer "entry-level" option, is available as well.














Beers from elsewhere around the world can be found too: Grolsch (Netherlands), Asahi (Japan), Czechvar (Czech Republic), Mythos (Greece), Presidente (Dominican Republican), plus various brews from places less known for their beer, such as Argentina and Hong Kong.

The choices from the United States are surprisingly sparse. Sam Adams Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are about it from the craft sector, though that is slowly starting to change.

Then, of course, we have what I call the faux imports, like Guinness, which is actually made here in Panama. Miller, Coors, and Budweiser are all widely available, but they're made in Panama as well. My "go-to" supermarket beer is Carlsberg, which for Panamanian import is made in Turkey. For 80 cents a can though I'll let that slide.

To make a long story short, there's no shortage of options in Panama. There is a noticeable absence of "American-style" craft beer, but in such an economically vibrant place as Panama, it won't be long before someone capitalizes on that opportunity.

Coming soon, the few, yet gradually increasing, options for locally-made cerveza artesanal in Panama.