When the economy goes south, it spares no one. Bad economics do not discriminate. So it’s no surprise that America’s craft breweries are facing some tough decisions in the months ahead. Some of them may have to shut down due to a lack of CO2.
Beer brewers rely on CO2 (carbon dioxide) to carbonate their beers. Carbonation gives beer a crisp, clean flavor that doesn’t taste heavy on the tongue. Just as with soft drinks, a lack of carbonation causes a beer to taste flat and weighty. So what is a craft brewery to do without it? Figure out another way to brew beer or shut down. There are few other options.
After Primary Fermentation
Whether a brewer is utilizing a brite tank brewing method or doing everything in a unitank, carbonation occurs after the primary brewing process. The yeast has done most of its work. Alcohol content is fairly high. Adding CO2 brightens the brew and jump-starts secondary fermentation.
There are other ways to induce secondary fermentation even without carbonation. But again, beer without carbonation is flat. If you ever want to know exactly what it would taste like, open a bottle of beer and let it sit for a day or two. It will go flat all on its own. That is because carbon dioxide is a gas. It eventually escapes the brew through the natural course of time.
A Shortage of CO2
So what’s going on with CO2? Why is there a shortage? For starters, production was slowed during the pandemic – just like everything else. But the situation has been made worse by contamination issues at one of the nation’s largest gas-producing facilities located in Mississippi.
CedarStoneIndustry, out of Houston, says a lack of CO2 could be detrimental to breweries of all sizes. The corporate breweries that rely on mass production via conical tanks will have trouble sourcing CO2 and pay more for it. Meanwhile, smaller craft breweries may not be able to get their hands on CO2 at all in the coming months. The fact that they utilize brite tank brewing methods is irrelevant.
Shutting Down in Massachusetts
In a recent piece outlining the CO2 shortage, NBC News highlighted a Boston, MA brewery that says it may have to shut down this fall if the CO2 crisis continues. Instead of continuing to brew in-house, they would outsource brewing to another local operator. All their employees would be laid off.
This may be hard to fathom given that CO2 is so common. It is not a hard-to-find or hard-to-produce gas that is only found in small reserves hidden away in remote locations. And yet, it still needs to be produced and stored in such a way as to make use of it. You cannot just grab a plastic bag and catch yourself some CO2 out of the air.
If producers do not have the resources to meet demand, there will not be enough CO2 tanks coming off the production line. We will end up with a shortage that could be as profound as a fuel or food shortage. Without CO2, both conical and brite tank brewing come to a standstill.
A New Type of Beer
Some craft breweries may be forced to shut down for lack of CO2. But as resilient as the industry is, do not bet against a prolonged CO2 shortage motivating some breweries to come up with a new type of beer people would be willing to drink. Necessity is the mother of invention, and a lack of CO2 just might necessitate a change of direction among America’s corporate and craft breweries alike.