Traditional cask ale brewer Shepherd Neame has opened a £1.9m robotic keg plant to release more space for lager production at its 300-year-old Faversham site in Kent.
The 300 keg-an-hour automated plant can be controlled by a single operator, with one forklift driver delivering empty kegs and collecting full ones.
The plant is part of a £6.7m investment made over the past year by Shepherd Neame, which has been brewing in the town since 1698. At the same time, a £3.6m, 0.6 hectare out-of-town distribution centre at Oare, less than 2km away, has reduced HGV lorry movements in the town by up to 100 a week.
Chief executive Jonathan Neame said extra space in the fermentation, filtering and bottling areas would increase packing capacity at the brewery by up to 50% over the next three to five years and boost potential output to 300,000 barrels a year.
"Shepherd Neame Brewery is a paradox between state-of-the-art technology and very old values," said Neame, who believed the company had found an environmentally-friendly way of operating in the town and broken gridlock around the site.
Just over half of Shepherd Neame's production is traditional ales with lager brewed mainly under licence for Holsten Export, Oranjeboom Pilsner, Kingfisher and Hurlimann.
Despite cask ale accounting for just 7-8% of the UK beer market -- or 2.5m barrels a year -- Neame said it presented an opportunity for regional brewers.
Production of beers and lagers has doubled over the past decade to 208,000 barrels a year. Shepherd Neame's traditional ales, include Spitfire, Master Brew and Bishops Finger.
The brewer also runs about 370 pubs, in which it has invested £10.2m over the past five years. It said that cask ale sales in its pubs were rising. Sales of Spitfire were up 10% last year, compared with a 5% decline in UK beer sales.