Rio Bajo, Ciudad de Panama, Panama. Dec. 14, 2017
You know you are talking to a winning team when you meet a Panamanian who has lived all over the world and a Venezuelan who makes you feel like you’re talking to a German brew master. This is the case at Cerveceria Central, located at the Rio Bajo area of Panama City where I am meeting with Carlos, the creative mind, and Joaquin the technical guy. You could say Joaquin is on his second tour of duty, as he has already had a full brewing career as Technical Director of Cerveceria Polar in Venezuela.
I stopped by on one of my transfers at Tocumen, the Panama City International airport. Global warming has had an effect on the weather in Panama because it was still raining in mid December when I made my trip to the swollen Rio Bajo and the area around where the English workers of the Panama canal settled after the job on the canal was done. Today, it a lively, busy semi-industrial area with a lot of small business and shops and the home – in a small industrial park – of Cerveceria Central.
Once inside, you are a different place, a nice clean brewing operation where you can feel the German influence. Carlos gives me a quick tour. This is the first time I’ve seen an ABE (Lincoln, NE) brew house and fermenters – good-looking equipment with nice workmanship. We sit down in the office to try their beers. I am familiar with their VENARENA, a Belgian wit that I have had many times, usually late afternoon, doing my tarea Español, somewhere outside when I am staying in Casco, the old part of Panama City.
We start with RIVER DOWN ALE (a clear reference to the Rio Bajo area where they are located), a blonde ale, with a unique name and a cool label. The beer is sparkly clear, a sharp golden color, something that fits both climate and culture here. I liked it, very drinkable but assertive and clearly right for the local market that is still very dominated by beers such as Balboa and Panama. River Down is different and more importantly worthy both of your money and time. Second one we try is LAGER TIJA, a lager with the lizard, Joaquin’s project. A lightly dry hopped lager reminiscent of an edge North German Pils. Joaquin had told me that his father was from Kiel in North Germany, this beer is clearly homage to him.
We move on to their hoppy beers, first in line is GUACHIMAN (the ” watchman” – those guys you see all over Panama with the shotguns from World War One slung over their shoulders), a hoppy ale and INDIA DORMIDA, an IPA. To me, Guachiman is the more interesting of the two. I would call it really a session IPA with a typical mosaic touch. India Dormida, a true IPA is a bit too malty for my taste where both hops and malt are battling for your attention. My two cents would be to give each beer a bit more character of it’s own, makes both beers more interesting and it broadens your portfolio. These guys will be on it, no doubt. You have to give them credit, just like all craft brewers here, to brew hop forward beers in this part of the world. It is not easy to brew hop forward beers when the quality of the hops here is so-so. By the time they receive the hops here, one has to wonder what has all happened with them, as they often are not so good anymore.
We chat more about beer and the world of beer in Panama. We will hear more from these two guys in Rio Bajo, I trust they will keep up the good work. Panama needs more good beer worth drinking.
proost: [noun] “cheers!” in Flemish; usually said when drinking with friends and family.