Panther Brewery of Reepham has installed what is believed to be the first fully automated bottling line for real ale at a brewery in Norfolk.
The filling/capping/labelling unit from Borelli of Italy was commissioned by Suprima Service of Ipswich, and enables the brewery to produce 1,000 bottles (330 ml or 500 ml) per hour.
The unit has already attracted interest for contract bottling from several other breweries in East Anglia, including Greene King, which are looking to bottle small batches for market research and testing.
Panther Brewery owner Martin James said the installation of the bottling unit marks a significant step forward – and a change in direction – for the company. “While cask ale will remain a large proportion of our business, we will also be exploring new avenues in bottled beer sales over the next few years,” he commented.
The microbrewery on the Collers Way Industrial Estate, Reepham, is currently producing around 50,000 bottles a year of its own bottle-conditioned real ale, but hopes to double this figure within five years.
The bottling line investment worth almost £90,000 was made possible with the assistance of funding from the Rural Development Programme through the Wensum and Coast Local Action Group (LAG), which provided 40% of the total costs of the equipment and installation.
Mr James said the LAG funding will help ensure that local breweries in a rural environment will be able to compete in the UK. “We could not have made this investment without the LAG funding,” he stated. “And in the long run the local community will benefit.”
It is planned that the new equipment will be available on contract, ideally processing a minimum batch of 2,000 bottles, although initially batches of 1,000 bottles would be considered.
This could result in more employment at Panther, while the bottling unit will also allow the brewery to further expand its own bottled beer range in line with its targeted expansion this year.
“With the anticipated growth, it follows that our local suppliers will benefit from a wider array of seasonal beers and specialities to choose from,” said Mr James.
“Meanwhile, events such as the Norwich City of Ale festival (25 May – 5 June) highlight the abundance of great pubs in the area and uphold high standards of cask cellarmanship in order for our product to be enjoyed.
“Complementing our cask range, all our bottled ales will continue to be bottle conditioned, fulfilling our ethos of maintaining a high-quality, natural product and providing the flavour profile that we aim for.”
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