“La Rana Dorada”, Pioneers of Craft Beer in Panama
The verb or expression “ranear” (loosely meaning “to frog/hang with us”) has been a part of the Panamanian vocabulary for almost ten years when the craft brewery La Rana Dorada decided to place its hopes on the local market. The idea started simmering at the time despite the fact that industrial beers held the spotlight on the shelves.
Panama is a beer country and it has the highest consumption rate in Central America, according to the Global Status Report on Alcohol published in 2018 by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, drinking craft beer is a recent practice that has led to a trend.
Today, the microbrewery movement boasts more than twenty local houses, and La Rana Dorada stands as one of the pioneers with twenty-seven owned recipes under its belt and 7 pubs dotted across the capital city. It has also earned twenty awards in national and international contests.
A Very Charismatic Frog
Colombian national Berny Silberwasser, founder of the Bogota Beer Company, BBC, and his friend Jacky Yaffe, half Colombian half Panamanian, came up with the name La Rana Dorada/The Golden Frog while walking through a souvenirs shop in Panama.
The golden frog is an icon of Panamanian fauna and a symbol of the country’s biodiversity. It is currently an endangered species because of a fungus that threatens its natural habitat.
To guarantee its existence, the golden frog has been rescued and is protected by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.
Berny and Jacky, creators of the brewery, not only adopted the name, but they also devised a character with arms and legs; a slender, charismatic frog, dressed in pants and a collar shirt, which changes outfits according to the occasion and always welcomes visitors to enjoy a good craft beer.
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La Rana Dorada: The Most Famous in the Neighborhood
“The same person who founded BBC, the largest craft brewery in Colombia, Berny Silberwasser, is also the founder and owner of La Rana Dorada, together with his childhood friend Jacky Yaffe. They both thought of opening a brewery here in Panama with a similar concept and with Brad Kraus as master brewer”, says Hernán Justiniani, general manager of the brand.
The first La Rana Dorada pub opened in 2010, and a second branch was later opened in the city’s Casco Antiguo (Old Town), where they also installed their small factory. “We registered the name of the brewery but didn’t have any beer. We hired a third party to make a first sample with our recipe. We thought it would take us two months but it lasted two weeks. That was enough for us to realize that it would work”.
La Rana Dorada grew, but never left the neighborhood that saw its debut. It soon became a point of reference for Panamanians and foreigners visiting the Casco, not only for the quality of the product, but also for its atmosphere, its pizzas, and good music.
In 2018 they moved their headquarters from Casco Antiguo to a much larger house, with two floors, an internal courtyard and stone walls. A place with a lot of history, where according to Justiniani, major seasonal celebrations take place.
Creative Beer Recipes
La Rana Dorada’s menu offers six beers of different styles to choose from. There is always a seasonal one that highlights local ingredients, such as passion fruit, coffee or chocolate. The most sought after is the Blanche, a cloudy blond ale-style, refreshing citrus-flavored beer of Belgian origin.
The Grand Cru is also another best-seller. Quite similar to the Blanche, it is a creamy, full-bodied beer with a very soft spicy touch. Next on the menu is the Porter, an English recipe with a roasted flavor, chocolate and coffee aroma, the Coffee Porter with coffee and raspadura (unrefined sugar cane), the Pils the only lager-style beer on the menu with herbal and floral accents, the classic IPA of American origin and strong hops, and the Pale Ale of reddish color and caramel flavor.
All, twenty-seven to date, have been created by Brad Kraus, the brewmaster who has accompanied the brand since its inception. Kraus also created the beers of the Bogota Beer Company in Colombia, twenty years ago, and has been a jury member of the most important beer competitions around the world.
The Golden Frog in a Can
After taking its first steps in the Old Town, the small factory of La Rana Dorada moved to a much larger space to produce more beer and meet the demand of the 7 stores it holds today. 1,500 liters of beer are manufactured daily.
According to Justiniani, the brand began its bottling process in 2017 and was sold across different points of sale. But the bottle phase would not last long. Considered a very polluting material it also does not favor the conservation of beer.
“The can is airtight, easier to carry, takes up less space, does not break and cools much faster. Not only did we change because it is cheaper, but because beer is preserved and consumed better in a can”, says Justiniani. In addition to the pubs, the beer is available at more than 50 distribution points that include supermarkets, liquor stores and restaurants throughout the city.
Although there are no plans to expand outside the country, La Rana Dorada does plan to grow both in the city and in other provinces using a franchise model.
“We have designed a new concept to offer the franchise in the city. It will not be a pub as such, but a different structure, based on 20-foot containers equipped to dispense beer with its own cold-storage room. Outside the city there will be more stores with the original pub format”, Justiniani explains. He adds that it is important for the company to have franchises that know the brand, appreciate it and respect its values.
After years of experience earned through loyalty and commitment of its customers, La Rana Dorada maintains the formula, beyond barley and hops, of blending a concept with character, good service and a pleasant atmosphere.
They also make their annual contribution to help preserve the golden frog. For every can sold they donate 5 cents to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “I think that mix has made this a successful business in the field of craft brewery in Panama,” concludes Justiniani.