CO2 shortage squeezes U.S. craft beer industry already struggling with supply issues

The odorless, tasteless chemical compound is the latest material in beer-making to see significant depletion.

Carbon dioxide creates the sudsy fizz in a beer. - Pexels / ELEVATE
Pexels / ELEVATE
Carbon dioxide creates the sudsy fizz in a beer.
Craft beer fans could soon be contending with yet another price hike as a carbon dioxide shortage threatens to leave the industry flat, NPR reports.

The odorless, tasteless chemical compound is the latest brewing material to experience supply issues, following aluminum cans and cardboard — each of which created havoc for beer producers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brewers use CO2 both to add foam to their product and to stave off the oxidization that gives it stale flavors.

Scheduled maintenance and lingering pandemic-era closures at ammonia and ethanol plants are playing into the shortage since CO2 is a byproduct of both manufacturing processes, NPR reports. That shortage comes as record heat drives higher demand for the gas and dry ice, its solid form.

“Every summer, demand for CO2 skyrockets because people want more beverages,” said Paul Pflieger, communications director of the Compressed Gas Association. “The record heat that we're seeing in this country and around the world is making this worse.”

CO2 also is a natural byproduct of brewing, from heating grain to begin the fermentation process. Some brewers — including San Antonio-based Alamo Beer Co. — use specialty equipment to capture the gas and reuse it.

However, many small brewers lack the resources and scale to make that feasible. Not to mention, reuse efforts tend to focus on cutting emissions and reducing costs, not becoming a brewery’s sole source of carbon dioxide.

Pflieger says his association's members are working hard to fulfill customers' orders, but warns that the situation won't reconcile overnight.

“We anticipate things to start reaching some normalcy in the next 30 to 60 days,” he said.

Given the string of shortages, most craft beer fans are ready to raise a glass to the industry sooner rather than later.

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Nina Rangel

Nina Rangel uses nearly 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry to tell the stories of movers and shakers in the food scene in San Antonio. As the Food + Nightlife Editor for the San Antonio Current, she showcases her passion for the Alamo City’s culinary community by promoting local flavors, uncovering...

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