Sep 12, 2022 - News

Brace for the coming beer shortage

Illustration of a beer tap dripping droplets of beer.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of carbon dioxide and Boston beermakers are beginning to worry they won't have enough of the gas to get their products to market.

Driving the news: A CO2 production hub in Jackson, Mississippi, became contaminated by an extinct volcano, which cut down on an already limited supply of the gas.

  • The pandemic put pressure on the CO2 market and drove up prices in part due to the immense amount of dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) needed to transport COVID-19 vaccines last year.

Why it matters: It's going to get cold and gloomy in a few weeks and there may not be enough beer to get us through the winter. Smaller brewers with less ability to recapture CO2 are most at risk.

  • Beer consumption has increased 53% in 2022, according to Top Data, and beer sales have seen a 25% increase since the start of the pandemic.

Be smart: Carbon dioxide is given off as part of the natural fermentation process of beer, but brewers need to add even more of the gas to the finished product to give it noticeable fizz.

What they're saying: "We've been running delivery to delivery for the past few weeks, and we are certainly concerned about the supply," Aeronaut Brewing Company co-founder Ronn Friedlander told Axios in an email.

  • Aeronaut brews popular IPAs like Hop Hop and Away and A Year with Dr. Nandu out of their Sommerville and Allston facilities.

State of play: Nightshift Brewery in Everett shut down a facility due to the lack of CO2. And things have gotten so rough for Aeronaut, they've begun looking for ways to drastically cut back on their CO2 use.

  • They've switched to using nitrogen where they can, which required new hardware and training and can alter the taste and feel of the beer.
  • Aeronaut is trying to cut down on how much CO2 they vent and is looking into how much can be captured and reused.
  • "We've looked into CO2 capture systems, but the lead times are five to six months, which doesn't address the current supply problems," Friedlander said.

Yes, but: Other brewers have been unaffected. Cambridge's Lamplighter Brewing told Axios they've been able to continue to purchase CO2 through their usual provider.

The bottom line: Beer blogger Kendall Jones pointed out last month that most large brewers use carbon-capture systems and are weathering the shortage just fine.

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