Europe faces beer shortage as CO2 supplies run low

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beer shortage

A perfect storm of unfortunate conditions means that Northern Europe may soon be fighting over the most important resources imaginable: beer, fizzy drinks, packaged meats and chicken.

The UK is likely to be the worst affected; no doubt World Cup supporters will react to the scarcity of beer with the stoic Blitz spirit England fans are known for.

Industry figures have warned manufacturers in Europe to expect shortages of food-grade carbon dioxide this month, and possibly next month too. CO2 is used in the production and packaging of many kinds of food and drink. Not only does it add the fizz in fizzy drinks and the bubbles in bottled and canned beers, CO2 is also used to keep products fresh – a blast of carbon dioxide ensures there’s no oxygen present that will allow organic matter to rot.

Sticking to pulled pints won’t save consumers from the shortage either. Draft beer also needs CO2. It is usually mixed with nitrogen (at a ratio of 60/40) to draw out beer stored in steel kegs.

Many plants in Europe that produce this important gas are offline or shut down at the moment for maintenance or refurbishment. Production of CO2 typically slows in the summer months, as it is primarily sold as a by-product from ammonia plants manufacturing fertiliser. Demand for fertiliser is highest in winter, so many plants take advantage of the quieter months to carry out routine maintenance. It just so happens that, this year, so many have closed production at a peak time for the brewing industry.

According to trade publication Gasworld, as many as five major CO2 manufacturers are offline across Europe. The May heatwave drove unexpectedly high demand for fizzy drinks, further depleting reserves. Three out of the four most prolific producers of CO2 in the UK are also offline – and the one left can’t provide all the CO2 the UK needs. Even in a normal year, the UK usually imports almost a third of its supplies.

The decreased supply of beer is likely to put a dampener on World Cup celebrations. England fans watching group stage matches against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium will be responsible for seeing off 14 million pints, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) – that’s if they can get them. Wetherspoons, one of the largest pub chains in the UK, has said that they’re expecting to run out of some beer and soft drinks within days. Heineken has reportedly already communicated with pubs across the country warning that they would only be able to order a limited amount of their affected beers (which include John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Amstel).

For the moment, it’s time to stop pondering whether your glass is half empty or half full; just be glad you’ve got anything in there at all.

Read more about London running out of water here.

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