Panama City is a unique beast in Central America. The canal and its subsequent influx of invested foreigners has created a metropolitan city that remains steeped in a near-ancient tropical culture. Reminders of Spanish occupation, the subsequent liberation and proud national identity surround the tourist that spends time meandering Panama City’s busy streets. Flags hang from rear-view mirrors, wide Colonial porches drape the sidewalks in welcome shade and cool, dark watering holes are found on nearly every corner.
And after a full day of sightseeing the beautiful Casco Viejo district, with its bright pops of pastels and even more colorful interactions with the lively locals, a cold cerveza is in order. The readily available local beer options are inexpensive, often around a dollar a can, but they’re also the expected fare: weak Caribbean-style lagers that offer thirst-quenching refreshment but little more.
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Panamanian brewery Casa Bruja is working hard to change the expectations of local beer. It’s on the front lines to establish a premium craft beer economy in a country that is swelling with modern, metropolitan constructs. And like any good brewery, Casa Bruja is striving to make a difference through the quality of its product.
The brewery has four main ales, eschewing the lagering process entirely. There’s Fula, a mild blonde with a bitter bite, Talingo, a roasty chocolate milk stout, Sir Francis, a traditional red ale and then, there’s the goat dog.
Chivoperro, or “Goat Dog” in English, is Casa Bruja’s flagship beer. An American-style IPA, the hops are prominently up front and center and a shock to the palate for someone accustomed to the entrenched local beers like Atlas or Balboa. Chivoperro’s sticky, piney and herbal notes are backed by a sweet malt profile that expertly balances the product, making a delicious, well-rounded brew that defies the local stereotypes.
While the prominence of India Pale Ales in the current American craft beer landscape may have reached its peak, it’s the perfect style to introduce into a country like Panama with a relatively young experimental beer market. Chivoperro can be hard to find with a fairly small distribution footprint. Luckily, the Casa Bruja website does a good job pointing craft beer pilgrims to the local bars and bottle shops that carry the brand. It’s a must-drink on your next visit to Panama.