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Craft brewery businesses latest to feel supply chain pinch with CO2 shortage

Supply chain issues have affected everything from computer chips to baby formula. Now, craft breweries are struggling with a nationwide shortage of carbon dioxide.

ATLANTA — During a hot Atlanta summer, a cold beer can be just the right treat, but to get that crisp, effervescent taste, brewers need one important ingredient: carbon dioxide.

Issues in the supply chain have affected everything from computer chips to baby formula. Now, craft breweries are feeling the pinch as the nation struggles with a shortage of CO2.

“We’ve had some troubles sourcing CO2,” said Cory Burke, co-founder of Best End Brewing. “For you to be able to drink beer at an establishment or from a can, you need CO2 to be able to do it. So, [it’s] pretty essential.”

A nationwide shortage of carbon dioxide has put the popular craft beer market in jeopardy. It’s yet another hit in a series of obstacles for business owners that haven’t seemed to stop since the pandemic started in 2020.  

“That’s what’s funny about all of these supply chain issues. CO2 is, yes, a big issue, but there was a time when cans were a big issue. There was a time when chicken wings literally increased price about 1,000 percent. So, it’s all of it. It’s containers, it’s plastic, it’s cans, it’s staff, it’s CO2 now,” Burke said.

At Three Taverns Brewery in Decatur, Brian Purcell said suddenly running out of CO2 in the middle of a canning run shut down their production for two days.

“We have never run out before and never come close to running out before that we know of,” Purcell said. “We kind of freaked out a little bit because we can’t package our beer without CO2. If we can’t package our beer, we can’t send it out into the market, which means we can’t send invoices, which means that it really hurts our business.”

Experts in the carbon dioxide industry say the shortage is caused by several factors. The Compressed Gas Association says “there is always tightness in the summer because the demand for products like beer, soft drinks and dry ice – which all use CO2 – increases in the warmer weather. This year’s record high temperatures have only intensified that demand.”

Local supplier Easy CO2 said this year’s shortage is heightened by “purity contamination of a natural ground source of beverage grade CO2” from Jackson Dome in Mississippi.

“It is hoped it will be resolved soon, but we don’t have a specific date,” said Sydney Lee Web with Easy CO2.

Combine that with overdue maintenance shutdowns (because of COVID) at other suppliers and the situation has gotten pretty dire for businesses that rely on the compressed gas.

“We’re calling our supplier every week, making sure we’re going to get topped off this week,” Purcell said. “It’s the worst possible time of the year. It’s when our production facility is maxed out.”

Burke opened his brew pub only six months before the pandemic hit. He’s had to pivot to survive the last three years.

“We bought a canning line during the pandemic. We weren’t really planning on going to packaging beer until probably year three,” he said.

In September, Best End Brewing will mark its three-year anniversary with a celebration to thank the community for the support that helped keep them alive.

“We’ve done what we feel like is a really good job of just kind of surviving,” he said. “We are humbled to still be here. I think anyone that’s still around right now is doing an incredible job. Our provider, Sydney Lee, a local company. She's done an incredible job of really running all over the state to kind of get what we need."

Purcell said, so far, they’ve only run out of CO2 once, although they’ve come close several times.

The shortage could get worse going into September. The Georgia Restaurant Association said most places in metro Atlanta say they’re being rationed but are getting just enough to get by. If it continues this way, the shortage could start to affect restaurants with soda fountain machines.

For Purcell, it could cost him his business.

“A couple days of shutdown could cause us to run out of stock, which is not ideal, but it’s not a killer either. A week of running out of CO2, that’s a different story,” he said.

With so much uncertainty around one of America’s favorite summer drinks, Purcell says people need to appreciate every sip.

“That’s right. It’s tough out there,” he said.

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