Una Cerveza, Por Favor – Guide to Panamanian Beer

Onesimo and Dave enjoying a cool beer.
The world of micro-breweries is a concept foreign, to many of my friends in this foreign country, so I would suggest leaving the concept at home and giving one of the national beers a go. Unless, of course, you are in places like Bocas del Toro or Panama City that cater to more tourists. In the rest of the country your choices are somewhat limited. Although, I will say that in many bars you might spot something you recognize. Corona is popular with the Panamanian ladies, Old Milwaukee somehow has a hold out crowd here and Miller Lite shows up at the baseball games quite frequently.

Throughout Central America each country has what is termed, “national beers”. Nicaragua it is Tona, or Victoria. In Costa Rica look for Imperial. Panama is unique, as it has several options. Take a gander below to get your bearings before the bartender raises her eyebrow and waits for you tell her which cold beverage you want…most likely there is no menu, and good luck if she cares to share with you your options (she doesn’t get tipped often, so customer service can sometimes be a tad lacking).

Balboa. Now in just the last two years Balboa has become slightly more complicated. Once it was just Balboa. Now you have Balboa Ice and in larger cities like Panama City you can find Balboa Roja. Balboa, the normal Balboa, has a red label and in small town like Puerto Armuelles many call it Balboa Roja (not to be confused with the Roja in the cities). See, ordering a beer can be difficult. This Balboa is the darkest and considered a premium lager. The alcohol content per bottle (330 ml) is the highest of the other local options at a “staggering” 4.4% (Ok, its not exactly Chimay…but it will do on a hot sunny day). The local saying is “Balboa es por los hombres” meaning it is for the men. This is an argument that my tastebuds refuse to take part in, and as a woman I proudly drink my “manly” beer. I also personally find it is the only beer I can drink on the warm side without being reminded of a a stale port-o-potty.

Panama. This is just a guess, but I am going to say that this beer was named after its country of origin. It is distinctive by its little green bottle (285 ml). Some of my friends drink Panama, and in a pinch it is my second choice and has the same alcohol content (4.4%) as Balboa. It is lighter than Balboa and as far as I am concerned, does not have the flavor, but if it is hot, and it is hot in Panama, just about anything will do. Just don’t drink it warm. Did I mention pot-o potties? There is also Panama Light (3.8% and also 285 ml), be careful when ordering. Panama Light is like its counterpart Panama, a beer with very little taste and yet they took the taste out of it.

Atlas. Hands down this is the most popular beer with my friends, and no, I have no idea why. My husband drank Atlas before he met me, but since then he swears each bottle tastes different. I don’t drink enough Atlas to claim one way or another, but he has YEARS of experience. At least Atlas is served in a regular sized bottle (330 ml) and has an alcohol content of 3.7%, but for the sake of your mental health, make sure it is cold! They also have a Golden Atlas, which is lighter and I am guessing has even less flavor. Not a fan of beer in clear bottles.

Soberana. With clear bottles being an issue, I will state I have drank Sobrana once in my beer drinking life, which is an extensive life, and I have never had such a bad hangover. No, I didn’t drink a case, I had one beer and a headache for two days. So I have very little to comment about, but just be forewarned. Stop! It is not the alcohol content (3.8%).

All alcohol contents are according to the bottles in my house. They recycle the bottles and you pay a deposit, so NEVER-EVER throw your bottles in the trash or goodness forbid the ocean!!!

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