Escaping the Emergency Room to Brew Beer in Panama

“I brew beer for a living. How bad can it be?” asks Dave O’Keeffe of the Boquete Brewing Company in Panama. Dave is originally from San Diego and previously worked as an ER nurse in Oregon.

“When I decided I wanted to open my own business brewing beer I started looking overseas,” he says. “The market in Oregon is already saturated but here in Panama it’s just getting started. The annual Brew Fest celebration in Panama City gets bigger every year.”

The Boquete Brewing Company came into being after Dave traveled around Central America for a few years in search of the ideal location for his new venture and settled on this highland town in western Panama.

“Boquete has the perfect combination of great climate, outdoor activities, and affordable cost of living,” he says. “There’s a great expat community and enough comforts to feel at home.”

Boquete Brewing Company brews small batches of hand-crafted beers and serves them to customers in its leased downtown Boquete location. Dave runs it with his fiancée, Alice Baldwin. The casual, welcoming atmosphere of the brew pub is a definite draw for locals and visitors. Dave and Alice understand the importance of attracting local customers, in addition to tourists.

“About 40% of our customers are local residents and Panamanians coming to Boquete from the city. We opened during low season, and we’re doing okay, so I’m excited to see how our business expands during the busy season,” Dave says.

“We don’t have a kitchen and don’t serve food,” Alice adds. “That’s not what we want to do. But we have menus for the food businesses close by so our guests can order what they want and have it delivered here to enjoy with their beer.”

Boquete Brewing Company is off to a good start and building a loyal clientele, with high-quality products and friendly staff. Dave’s plans under consideration include creating custom brews for local restaurants and bottling his beers and sodas for retail sales. For now he and Alice are happy to be open, brewing beer, serving customers, and living in Boquete.

Alice is impressed by the sense of camaraderie among the few brewers in Panama. “There’s a real community of brewers, and we all help each other out,” she explains. “We know the brewers in Panama City and Bocas del Toro, and we’re good friends with the other brewer here in Boquete. We’re all more interested in cooperating than competing, which is great for everyone.”

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