The Early Years
In 2010, following years of brewing at home and with a passion for good beer, Martin decided to launch his own microbrewery based in Reepham. He decided upon the name Panther Brewery as he became aware of stories of large cat like creatures being sighted in the area. This seemed a great name for a brewery and all he needed then was a base to brew from.
He found an ideal location where the old Reepham Brewery was based on Collers Way,and following a deep clean and a lick of paint, Panther Brewery was born.
In the early years, Martin was aided in his quest for great beer by Alex Simpson. Alex was a huge help to Martin, with great knowledge of the brewing scene, drinking trends as well as being a hard worker! Early beers launched (and still very popular to this day) were Golden, Red and Black. It was thought that it was important in the initial stages to have beers that covered three of the main areas of beer demand…a golden ale, a best bitter and a porter.
Over the years, they would add to the range, with Cub (a 2.5% table beer), and the launch of two wheat beers, Ginger and Pink. It was almost inevitable that we would produce a Pink Panther and, in the archives somewhere, there is evidence of Martin dressed as Inspector Clouseau and his wife, Diana, as The Pink Panther. Attempts since to coerce Danny into donning the panther suit have proved unsuccessful, but Martin continues to live in hope.
New Arrival as team expands
In 2014, Danny joined the team on the sales side as Martin sought to create a link between the brewery and our lovely customers. At this point it is worth mentioning the sterling work of Mark Cade who has since the start been the CAMRA Liaison Officer, helping cement the link between our brewery and the pub outlets we supply. You may recognise the surname as Mark’s wife Cheryl is a local beer sommelier, and amongst other roles, organises the foreign beers section at Norwich Beer Festival. Cheryl has recently become somewhat of an expert on cheese too, embarking on several courses which seems to (according to recent social media posts) have resulted in a plethora of delicious cheeses making their way into the Cade fridge….I’m sure Cheryl will say this is necessary for research purposes!!!
With a team of three at the brewery, there was more time available for new ideas to come to fruition, with further launches of Honey and Mild. The thinking behind the launch of our Mild was to produce a traditional mild, i.e. a low percentage ABV (3.3%) and not to follow the modern trend of strong milds.
And now for something stronger….
It was now felt that it was time to launch a stronger beer to add something a bit different to the range. Eager to embrace the world of social media, Martin put it to the people of Twitter to come up with a name for a new beer. And so, Beast of the East joined the range and has proved very popular ever since. Brewed to 5.5%, full of fruity New Zealand hops it is a beer we are very proud of. When the bad weather of a couple of years ago came and with it the Beast ‘from’ the East, many customers assumed that it was launched after the bad weather but in fact we had launched it years earlier!!!
Sadly, Alex got an opportunity to work for the excellent Dark Star Brewery based in Brighton and he has since moved on to Harbour Brewing Co in Cornwall, via a brief return in between. We are still in contact with him, and if you read this, Alex, we would love to try some of your beers out to check that ‘you’ve still got it’!
Since Alex left, local lad Jack Mortimer then joined the team and helped Martin and Danny continue to develop the Panther brand. Jack’s enthusiasm for producing quality products only diminished upon the sight of a spider at which point Martin and Danny had to swiftly eject the arachnid before Jack could contemplate returning to the job in hand.
No more cow’s udders…..
Jack then moved on as he accepted a course at university and having whittled down a long list of applicants to replace Jack, Martin invited Chris Watts to join the team. Chris had a background of working for Greene King and Molson Coors on the scientific side of things and was to prove a useful addition to the team. With the noted popularity of American Pales (APA’s) as a style, we decided to launch our own version, and this 4.4% punchy pale is one of our best sellers.
By this point, Martin had purchased an automated bottling line with the help of EU funding from a LEADER grant. The time being spent using, as Danny refers to them ‘the cow’s udders’ to fill three bottles, then a labelling machine that does front and back labels, but not neck (which had to be labelled by hand) was so time consuming. The purchase of a bottling line that will label, fill and cap 1000 bottles per hour, was to prove an inspired idea that would enable us to not only speed up the whole process for our own products, but also offer contract bottling to other real ale producers. Humpty Dumpty and Boudicca both bottle with us, they simply turn up with their beer in a big tank and leave with it all bottled and ready to go!
The Clapton Years…..
It is at this point that I must mention the efforts of Martin Clapton who for many years delivered our beers to the pubs and shops of Norfolk. Possessing a lovely dry sense of humour ‘Clappers’ would arrive at the brewery on delivery day, always a few minutes late, and his first question was more often than not ‘go on then, where are you sending me today?’ He could tell immediately from Danny’s expression if he had as he termed it ‘stitched him up’ with some of Norfolk’s most inaccessible cellars! Nevertheless, it was all part of the banter, as he would depart the brewery in his van and latterly in his beloved Volvo to embark on a day of winding steps and dimly lit cellars. Numerous incidents, needless to say come to mind, but highlights include him losing grip on a cask when attempting delivery to the Sir Garnet and it rolling down the hill towards it’s destination before thankfully ‘righting itself’ at the bottom without running over an unsuspecting pedestrian. Clappers hasn’t mentioned to this day whether he attempted to chase after the errant cask but our guess is he stood there with his fingers crossed and hoped!!! The Sir Garnet was a particular favourite for him, with its cellar being not ideally suited for deliveries, with Danny and Martin always relieved to emerge from the wonky, dimly lit entrance alive. This pub was also the scene of him, probably in a bid to avoid a repeat of the ‘cask roll’ incident, parking out the front of the pub and returning to his van to find a parking ticket had appeared on his windscreen!! There was no defence we could use other than it was pretty obvious (given the branded van) what we were there for and that we would be gone in a few minutes, but unfortunately traffic wardens are not generally known for their understanding in these situations. Needless, to say the ticket was paid and we haven’t parked there since, although I have had thoughts at the top of the slope that it would be most unfortunate if said traffic warden was passing as I tried to recreate the cask roll scene!
Martin C has since stopped doing deliveries but continues to be involved, on occasion covering the shop etc. He has also taken on the role of Social Secretary, a position he has taken on with gusto, organising ‘Panther nights out’ to either beer festivals or just simply good real ale pubs.
Fifteen minutes of fame for Martin….
In 2017 we were approached by the BBC, regarding a show that they would be producing the following year about fishing. The plan was that two ‘celebrities’ would do some fishing locally and pop in to some local businesses and do a bit of filming. We immediately said we would be delighted to be part of this and so they said they would be in touch with further details. Various emails and agreements were then signed and we were given a date when the filming would take place.
Much discussion had taken place at the brewery regarding the identity of the celebrities, with Danny’s belief that ‘it’ll probably be some z list reality tv stars we had never heard of’, but nevertheless it would be great publicity for us.
The day of filming arrived and following filming Martin rang Danny who was at home, awaiting news of Martin’s moment of TV fame with some perma-tanned publicity seeking wannabe celebrity. The news wasn’t good for Danny as Martin revealed that the two celebrities he had been filming with had been two of Danny (and many other peoples) comedy idols, Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer! Paul, known for his huge success in The Fast Show, Harry Enfield and Chums and many other classics, and Bob for his work with Vic Reeves, including Big Night Out and Shooting Stars were NOT z list celebrities it could be said. Danny couldn’t believe he had missed the chance to be there and Martin could feel the disappointment through his phone. Martin unfortunately had been sworn to secrecy and told only half an hour before Bob and Paul arrived of their identity, as the film crew anticipated that given their profile, it would have affected the piece if hundreds of fans had suddenly appeared at the brewery. They, of course were right to do this as there would have been every chance of Danny suddenly, ‘appearing’ at the brewery as he had ‘forgotten’ some paperwork or whatever excuse he could come up with to meet the stars! It was probably for the best that he was kept away as no doubt the urge to run through a few of Paul’s many characters would have been too great, with ‘suits you’ and ‘scorchio’ likely candidates, in addition to possibly an ‘Ulrikakaka’ to Bob.
The filming went well, with the end scene of Paul asking Bob to blow in a bag to test his alcohol levels following his visit! It was great publicity with Bob particularly good at product placement with one of our three packs! The programme has gone from strength to strength with Paul’s knowledge of fishing contrasting sharply with Bob’s total lack of fishing knowhow. Having both suffered heart problems, the two friends shared stories whilst fishing and Bob’s role was to arrange accommodation and cook some ‘heart healthy’ food.
Mortimer and Whitehouse-Gone Fishing has since gone on to have a second series, with a third series commissioned for 2020. It has proved a huge hit with viewers, with the gentle nature of the banter, with numerous impressions from both, Bob’s tendency to fall over, and his childlike excitement at getting a bite, allied to the, if you pardon the pun, ‘heartwarming’ friendship between the two stars making the show unmissable.
Despite his strong performance in front of the camera, Martin is still awaiting further calls from agents to further his TV career, whilst Danny continues to lament the lost opportunity to meet two of his idols, having to make do with meeting a typically inebriated Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins at Peterborough train station as his celebrity anecdote!
The current team
As the workload increased, and with more events/markets at weekends, Martin employed Paul Ashmore to cover the brewery on Saturdays. Paul was subsequently brought in on brew days also, to increase his knowledge of the brewing process and provide cover in the event of Chris being unavailable. This forward-thinking approach paid dividends when, unfortunately, Chris was offered another job at a microbrewery near his then home, and Paul stepped in to help Martin with the brewing.
Paul is a much-valued member of the team who works very hard despite the arrival of his son Jacob, shortening dramatically his hours of sleep!
The current team of Martin, Danny and Paul have a great working environment, with good banter, gossip most mornings, mostly revolving around the continued struggles of Norwich City and to the delight of Paul, the continued rise of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
It has been a remarkable ten years with many changes and events. We organised beer festivals on Stimpson’s Piece, with live music and food stalls. These were very popular, with a game of ‘spot who has been on the strong beers and ciders’ and ‘won’t be long until they’re dancing’. It is hoped that in the post COVID19 era, we may do another festival, they are great fun, but a terrific amount of work and those who help at these events in addition to us employees, make the events possible, so thank you all.
Another incident, connected to one of our festivals, was the mysterious disappearance of our Panther which was stolen at some point amongst the festivities one night. An appeal was launched in the EDP for the safe return and eventually the culprits returned the beast. The spot they returned it to could really only happen in Norfolk as they left it outside the town’s police station! They soon scarpered before they were spotted and to this day we don’t know who did it, all we think is that they may have had a beer too many at the event and what started as a prank then became a bit more serious! Anyway, the panther is back and if he is present at the next beer festival he will be watched like a hawk and possibly staked to the ground!
We decided that to mark our tenth anniversary, we would launch a celebratory beer. Many breweries come and go in what is an already crowded marketplace, and ten years and counting is no mean achievement. Following much discussion, we plumped for Decade as in Danny’s words, it does exactly what it says on the tin! Decade is a 4.2% thirst quenching amber which we first launched in March. Whilst the events of the past few months have thrown plans somewhat in the air, it is envisaged as we begin to return to something approaching normality that we will be brewing Decade again to properly celebrate 10 years of Panther brewing.
If we can also now take this opportunity to thank our shop customers and the general public who, with their online and phone orders, have been absolute stars in keeping us going in these incredibly trying times. Your support has been amazing and we are so very, very grateful.
As this is written, the future for everyone is quite uncertain, with lockdown eased and the world coming to terms with that dreaded phrase ‘the new normal’. It seems that, in the ten years since Panther Brewery was born the world has come full circle. The uncertainty in which the brewery was created has returned with the coronavirus affecting how we lead our lives.
There is however, one thing we can guarantee you, and that is that we will continue to produce high quality ales for you all to enjoy, whether that is in your local boozer, a beer festival or simply at home with family.
Keep an eye out on here and on social media platforms for latest news of new brews, events and everything that is happening at Panther HQ!
So, raise your glass of Panther beer to our tenth anniversary and as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord used to proclaim, ‘all hail the ale’!