May 27, 2012

Panama: La Rana Dorada

The craft beer scene in Panama remains small, but one of the major players right now is without a doubt La Rana Dorada. Run by the same people behind Colombia's hugely successful Bogota Beer Company, "The Golden Frog" has two locations that feature their four "cervezas artesanales con personalidad." That's "craft beer with personality" for all my gringo friends.

The La Rana Dorada Pub on Via Argentina opened first in September of 2010. After a couple successful years in that location, they opened the brewery across town in February of 2012. The site is at the entrance of Casco Viejo, the historic part of Panama City that still displays colonial facades and streets of brick. Designated a World Heritage site in 2003, Casco is going through a rapid renovation. It’s the heart of tourism in Panama City, but also the place where many residents like to head for dinner and drinks.

Photo: La Rana Dorada
While the Via Argentina pub has a more extensive menu, including finger food and burgers, I tend to frequent the cervecería in Casco. They've got a happy hour Monday through Friday from 3pm to 7pm. The outdoor patio space is often packed and the people-watching is pretty entertaining. Indoors, however, La Rana is a classic, English-style pub, with the iconic wooden bar and beer paraphernalia all over the yellow walls. They have several memorable beer quotes painted around the inside of the pub. Naturally, they have the one attributed to Ben Franklin, but my favorite is “Fermentacion y civilizacion son inseparables” – John Ciardi.

Food-wise, the brewery in Casco specializes in pizza, but they've just started serving ceviche and hot dogs (basically weisswurst). The real treat though, is the beer, now available in take-home growlers:
Photo: David Ackley
  • Premium Pilsner – Straw yellow in color and crystal clear, this German-style Pils is not your typical Central American light lager. Hallertauer hops in the aroma combine with two-row barley and Vienna malts, providing balance between flavors of both fruit and grain. 5% ABV, 21 IBUs.
  • Pale Ale – This English-style pale is vibrantly orange in color. Sweet, citrus aromas are balanced by the spicy, earthy flavor of East Kent Goldings hops. 5% ABV, 30 IBUs.
  • Blanche – Just slightly hazy, this ale is like the Belgian Wit, but with a lighter body. It is La Rana Dorada’s most popular beer, approachable and refreshing. Coriander and orange peel accompany the whole experience, but never dominate. 4% ABV, 18 IBUs.
  • Porter – With coffee on the nose and a tan head, this London Porter is brown in color with bright ruby highlights. Tastes of coffee and chocolate are accompanied by just the slightest astringency of roasted barley that contributes complexity to the brew.  5% ABV, 30 IBUs.
Master brewer/maestro cervecero Brad Kraus runs the brewery, which at this time consists of a 7 bbl brewhouse and three 14 bbl fermenters. He brings some 25 years of brewing experience to La Rana and has worked in breweries in New Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Colombia. He's a BJCP Master Beer Judge, most recently judging at the World Beer Cup in San Diego.

Photo: La Rana Dorada
The folks at La Rana Dorada hope to build on their success, spread the word about the brand, and maybe even open a third location in the city. Keep an eye out for future events by following La Rana Dorada on Facebook and on Twitter.