What the CO2 Shortage Means for Beer, Seltzer Water and Other Beverages
During the summer of 2022, night patrola big Massachusetts brewery, shocked drinkers and the wider craft beer industry when it abruptly announced that it would stop brewing at its flagship location and start using a contract partner to fulfill orders.
There were several reasons for this change, including the lingering effects of Covid-19 on the market and a shortage of cans. But the main problem was losing access to a supply of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas essential to the production of beer.
“Last week we learned that our CO2 supply has been reduced for the foreseeable future, possibly over a year until we get more,” the brewery wrote in a statement. Instagram post. “Breweries rely on CO2 to make beer, so this was bad news to receive. It looks like this will be an issue that will affect many local breweries, so we are probably one of many breweries facing this news. threat to our business.
This statement has rung true for a growing number of over 9,000 breweries as well as other beverage companies including, wine, hard seltzer and ready to drink (RTD) producers, who depend on large amounts of CO2 to bring products to market.
“If breweries cannot obtain beverage-grade CO2 for brewery use, the brewery may have to stop production,” says Keith Lemcke, instructor and marketing manager at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.
Why is there a shortage of CO2?
The CO2 shortage can be attributed to supply problems that started around the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with an increased need for gas in several industries like cannabis and vaccines, according to Amy George, president of Terrestrial laboratoriesa company that helps companies capture and use CO2.
In the beverage sector alone, increased production of relatively new categories such as hard seltzer water and ready-to-drink cocktails added to the pressure.
Industry monitors like George say there’s not much relief in sight.
Why is CO2 so important?
It’s an important element of beer “from a stylistic point of view,” says Lemcke. In the finished product, it is most apparent in the form of carbonation. The prickly bubbles that come up on the tongue are the result of CO2 being forced into the liquid.
Gas is also critically important in beverage manufacturing, as it prevents oxygen from entering the process, which can introduce off-flavors, especially in beer.
“Whenever beer is moved from one place to another, brewery staff can use CO2 to move the air that is inside pipes, pipes, tanks, pumps and, especially, in the bottles/cans/kegs just before filling,” says Lemcke. “Even the smallest amount of O2 can [cause] problems in the finished beer, so brewers tend to use a lot of CO2 to flush O2 out of their equipment.
Switching to another way of moving air from equipment, such as flushing with water or nitrogen gas, may not be an easy option for breweries, Lemcke notes. And if a brewery “rations” its use of CO2 for purging equipment, the resulting high O2 levels could affect beer stability, leading to bland flavors and beer haze occurring more quickly in their packaged products.
Finding solutions to the CO2 shortage
There are solutions for beverage manufacturers in the form of equipment capable of capturing the CO2 produced during brewing. These machines have been used in breweries for years.
Alaska Brewing was the first craft brewery in the United States to add a CO2 recovery system. Installed in 1998, it uses captured CO2 to purge and condition the tanks. This eliminated the need for the brewery to import CO2 into the remote town of Juneau. The brewery claims the system prevents over a million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
“Small recovery systems may not make sense for very small breweries from a return on investment (ROI) and operations perspective, but, as with much brewing equipment, the price and usefulness of Brewery equipment tends to go down over time,” says Lemcke. .
This equation now makes sense for Odell Brewery in Colorado, which recently announced that it was installing a CO2 recapture machine. The brewery estimates it will prevent 1.4 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
“It closes a loop that we’ve wanted to close for a long time,” says Matt Bailey, the brewery’s plant manager, citing a desire to make the brewery more environmentally friendly. He says Odell Brewing has been studying CO2 recovery equipment since 2013, but stepped up efforts when shortages occurred in 2017, then committed to installing it in 2020.
“According to EPA calculations, this is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 70,000 gallons of gasoline,” the brewery said in a statement. Press release. The system is expected to go live in April 2023.
Finding the right CO2
Not all CO2 is suitable for beverages. Gas used for beer, seltzer, wine and other categories must be rated for consumption.
“Industrial CO2 can come from a variety of sources,” says Lemcke, “so it’s important that the gas doesn’t contain any artifacts from its source of production.”
By using recovery technology in breweries, Bailey says the CO2 is “purer”. Additionally, when Odell held flavor panels, he discovered that beer created using brewery CO2 contained leftover “trace elements” from beer production, which added welcome additional flavors apparent. in sensory evaluation.
“As brewers, we all need to take a step back and look at what we produce and how to do it responsibly,” says Bailey. “Sustainability is something we are passionate about, most brewers are. By working together, we can do a lot of good.