Brains Brewery prepares for the future with new production plant in Cardiff

brains brewery Bill Dobson

Head Brewer at Brains Brewery, Bill Dobson, stands at the entrance gate to the Welsh brewery's new site, The Dragon Brewery in Cardiff, which was designed by NIRAS.

Brains Brewery in Cardiff needed to build a completely new production facility to meet the demands of increasing flexibility and versatility of the modern beer market. The brewery contacted NIRAS whose experts were involved in all facets of designing, planning and installing the brand new Dragon Brewery.

December 2, 2019
  • SDG: #12
  • SECTORS: Food & Beverage
  • COUNTRIES: United Kingdom
  • CLIENT: Brains Brewery

Brains Brewery was facing a challenge that is familiar to many British breweries. The brewery’s production facilities in the centre of Cardiff in Wales were geared towards a relatively large scale production reminiscent of beer production in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

However, a rapidly changing beer market made it necessary for Brains to be more flexible and adaptable, and to be able to produce a wider variety of beers in smaller quantities.

Therefore, some five years ago the board of Brains Brewery decided to investigate the possibility of building a brand new brewery that would meet the demands of the modern beer market.

New versatile brewery

Cardiff is at the heart of Brains, so the site had to be in Cardiff. We had been looking at potential new sites for some five years, so finding the correct site was really important. NIRAS have helped us over the last three years in terms of evaluating various options and sites.

Bill Dobson, Head Brewer at Brains Brewery

Brains wanted to build a new brewery with the capacity of producing nearly 100,000 hectolitres of beer per year, but with a much more versatile and flexible production line than its previous site in the centre of Cardiff.

Brains Brewery contacted NIRAS whose experts became involved in all aspects of the construction of the brewery – from assessing the location of the new site to developing a concept design, a design for utilities and for the detailed design of the process.

The project was delivered within the agreed budget and time frame, and Brains has started producing beer at the new Dragon Brewery according to plan in early 2019.

Brains Brewery Control Panel

Selecting the new site for the brewery

The history of NIRAS in United Kingdom

NIRAS is an international engineering consultancy. The history of NIRAS Food & Beverage in United Kingdom dates back to the company Penborn Technical Services (PTS) which was founded in 1976.

Carlsberg’s Danbrew, which undertook consultancy and construction of breweries, had initially shown an interest in PTS. However, DanBrew was bought by the company Alectia in 2005, who also later acquired PTS in 2008.

In 2017 Alectia merged with another consultant company, NIRAS. The combined expertise of DanBrew, PTS and Alectia has thus continued under the name of NIRAS.

From a construction and distribution point of view, the easiest solution would probably have been to choose a greenfield or brownfield site outside Cardiff. However, Brains Brewery has been closely connected to Cardiff ever since the brewery was established in the city by Samuel Arthur Brain and his uncle in 1882. The present owners are also related to the founder, and therefore it was a condition that the new brewery would also be placed in the city of Cardiff.

The site that was chosen for the new Dragon Brewery is located near the dock area in Cardiff, and the building was originally an office and warehouse space. Brains wanted the office space for their office staff, their PR and purchasing departments, as well as using it for the operations related to the company’s 200 pubs.

The ground floor space was meant for the brewery itself and its engineers. However, even though the quality of the building was good, it was not designed for beer production, which represented a series of challenges.

Brains Brewery Kegline

Overcoming challenges: Drainage, gas, water, electricity

In terms of the scope, NIRAS has effectively helped, managed and designed the whole of the process. So it was very much a team approach working with both NIRAS’ civil consultant and process design experts to effectively come up with a design and a specification for all the brewery that met all our needs, but that also incorporated NIRAS’ expertise, knowledge and experience.

Bill Dobson, Head Brewer at Brains Brewery

The main challenge with the new site was that the original warehouse was not designed with any significant drainage infrastructure. Therefore drains had to be created by thrust-boring underneath the entire construction and through the piles of the building.

The floors were also flat with no fall, so the floors had to redesigned with falls and given a hygienic finish. Likewise, the walls also needed to be refurbished completely to meet hygienic standards.

Furthermore, the new site also had to be rebuilt to accommodate larger supplies such as gas, water and electricity, all of which were insufficient, as well as finding innovative solutions for waste management.

Brains Brewery Tanks

Head Brewer’s vision behind brewery

The new Dragon Brewery was envisioned by Brains’ head brewer, Bill Dobson, who has been in charge of the beer production at Brains since 2007. Bill Dobson and Brains cooperated closely with NIRAS’ experts who found the technical solutions to the head brewer’s and the board’s wishes.

The majority of the brewery plant was designed to be inside the building with a keg line and a cask line. However, the boilerhouse is placed in the yard outside the building, as well as the glycol system for refrigeration, the CO2 tanks, the nitrogen tanks and various larger capacity beer storage tanks. The yard has also been designed to serve as storage for empty kegs and casks, as well as for loading full kegs and casks.

The automation solution has been designed for ease of operation with the brewhouse and CIP plant being fully automatic and the rest of the brewery being semi-automatic plant with very hands-on operator control of most of the processes.

The attemperation of fermenters and bright beer is automatic, but routing of beer in and out of vessels is all manual. The brewery decided on semi-automatic solutions in order to maintain the original staff and take their level of expertise into account.

Prepared for the future

The new brewery has enabled Brains to make important changes in its scope and range of production, enabling it to introduce new products according to the demands of its customers.

With the creation of Dragon Brewery, Brains has thus adapted and prepared itself for the future beer market where flexibility and versatility are key requirements.

Brains Brewery Beers

The history of Brains Brewery

Brains Brewery was founded in 1882 in Cardiff by Samuel Arthur Brain. The brewery has been based in Cardiff ever since, and it is still owned by direct descendants of the founder.

In 1999 Brains moved from its original site in the centre of Cardiff to the former Bass brewery in the Brewery Quarter near the central railway station. In 2019 Brains moved to its new Dragon Brewery near the dock area of Cardiff.

Brains produces some 20 different types of beers, mainly a variety of ales, including its famous SA and Rev. James. Brains has also introduced a line of craft beers, and it produces a selection of seasonal beer. Brains Brewery also owns some 200 pubs and a series of hotels.

Olav Vind Larsen

Olav Vind Larsen

Vice President

Allerød, Denmark

+45 2268 5590

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