Beer Town: CO2 and can shortages vex Georgia breweries

But as publications around the U.S. have noted, there are still supply chain issues, especially when it comes to a recent shortage of carbon dioxide and an ongoing shortage of aluminum cans.

As you may know, oxygen causes beer to deteriorate. But carbon dioxide not only protects beer, it also gives it the bubbly, Champagne-like carbonation that makes it so pleasing to the eye and refreshing on the palate.

John Roberts, the brewmaster and a partner at Bold Monk on Atlanta’s Westside, hadn’t experienced a lack of carbon dioxide until recently.

“The previous CO2 shortage didn’t really affect the Southeast too much,” Roberts said. “Our CO2 came from a different source in Mississippi, and we got plenty.”

That changed when that natural carbon dioxide reservoir, touted as the only large underground deposit east of the Mississippi River, was contaminated by a pocket of natural gas.

“It was just a disaster,” Roberts said. “But my supplier has been bending over backward to keep everybody in gas. And we’ve taken steps in the brewery to ration it. One of the advantages we have is bladder serving tanks, which are under pressure. But packaging lines, purging tanks, and moving beer from one tank to another all take a lot of CO2.”

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As for cans, Roberts said things aren’t quite as dire, but a combination of demand, delays in label making, and shipping slowdowns have been a headache.

Blake Tyers, Senior Director of the Catalyst Division at the Creature Comforts Taproom in downtown Athens, finds that most of the problems are on the logistics side of the business now.

“We were pretty aggressive about getting can backups when we saw an issue, and now cans have kind of gotten back to normal,” Tyers said. “But CO2 is definitely the biggest pinch point, especially in the last month or two.”

Both Bold Monk and Creature Comforts employ a German technique called kräusening that adds active wort to carbonate lagers in the tank.

“We’ve been trying to create more natural CO2 because not only does it save us from having to buy it, but it also creates a much nicer product,” Tyers said. “Different ways of adding CO2 to your beer can change the quality, texture and aroma, and that highlights how crucial it is.”

Sydney Lee Webb of Easy CO2 in Hampton, Georgia, which supplies both Bold Monk and Creature Comforts Taproom, said the current nationwide crisis is caused by several factors, including shortages of railroad workers and truck drivers.

“CO2 is a byproduct of ethanol and fertilizer,” Webb explained. “Ethanol production is in decline in the U.S. due to the federal government urging less use of fossil fuels and less U.S. production. Fertilizer production is down due to rising energy costs.”

Another problem is the difficulty sourcing parts for repairs and maintenance, both for the plants that make CO2 and the trucks that deliver it.

“Keeping a finger on the pulse of our supply and the ability to react quickly to customers needs has helped us serve our brewers,” Webb said. “If someone does run out, they get it that day or the very next morning. It’s rare that we let anybody run out.”

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