Why there could be a World Cup beer crisis

The UK is bracing itself for a beer and fizzy drinks crisis as World Cup fever sweeps the nation.

A shortage of CO2 – the gas that carbonates beer and soft drinks – is threatening to leave supermarket drinks aisles empty and beer taps running dry amid a surge in demand due to Russia 2018 and the warm weather.

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At least one brewer has said beer production could cease as early as next week and likened the scramble for supplies to war rationing.


Soft drinks producers, food manufacturers and brewers across the UK have been hit by the major shortages of food grade CO2 as much of Europe competes for vital supplies.

CO2 is a byproduct in ammonia production, with ammonia plants serving as one of the primary sources of food grade CO2 in Europe.

Supplies began to dwindle two months ago due to planned shutdowns at some ammonia plants for maintenance works – but the situation became “critical” when other plants were also closed due to technical issues, the industry publication Gasworld has reported.

“All major suppliers of liquid CO2 have been affected by the raw gas sourcing issues,” it added.

Sam Millard, who works for the London-based Beavertown Brewery, said the CO2 shortage would have an impact on breweries of all sizes.

“It’s going to affect everyone. We’re all very heavily reliant on CO2, not just as part of the brewing process but also as part of the packaging process,” he said.

“[The CO2 shortage] has hit at absolutely the wrong time of year – the height of summer and the World Cup is when people want to be down the pub, drinking beer, or they want to get cans to take home,” Mr Millard noted. “We can modify our processes for this week which will see us through…but if it goes on any longer than that then we’ll just have to halt packaging,” he added.

England play their second group game against Panama on Sunday (1pm kck off) followed by Belgium on Thursday, June 28 (7pm).


Why does beer need CO2?

CO2 is used to carbonate beer – soft drinks manufacturers also use it to make non-alcoholic beverages fizzy.

What about how it is packaged?

CO2 also plays an essential role in the canning process. Before the cans are filled they are purged with CO2 to make sure there is no oxygen present – oxidised beer tends to taste stale and unpleasant. Once the can is filled with beer a burst of CO2 is added before it is lidded and sealed, again to keep the beer fresh.

So we should all switch to draft beer?

Most pubs dispense beer by using what’s known as 60/40 – a mixture of 60 per cent CO2 and 40 per cent nitrogen. The majority of draft beer sold in the UK is stored in steel kegs. To dispense the beer, gas is inserted into the keg, squeezing the liquid out.

Can’t we use another gas?

The gas used must be an inert gas – one which has extremely low reactivity with other substances – such as CO2 or 60/40.

A version of this report first appeared in the i news - Click here to read more