Carbon Dioxide Shortage Impacts Massachusetts Craft Beer Production
Oxygen is the enemy of beer. Carbon dioxide is its protector. Brewers rely on CO2 to prevent oxidation from ruining batches of beer. But a growing shortage of this critical gas is beginning to impact production at some Massachusetts craft breweries.
Many US breweries have struggled to find CO2 due to pandemic-related supply chain issues, but the executive director of Mass. Brewers Guild’s Katie Stinchon said scarcity hasn’t really hit this state so far.
A major natural source of food-grade CO2 in the Jackson Dome area of Mississippi has faced contamination issues, Stinchon said. “It created a ripple effect on our breweries here in Massachusetts.”
Last week, Night Shift Brewing in Everett learned that its local supplier, American Gas Products, could not deliver CO2 for potentially more than a year.
Night Shift co-founder Michael Oxton said it sent his team to shambles. CO2 allows brewers to move beer between tanks to kegs and canning lines. They also inject it into the liquid to create carbonation for shelf stability and frothy buds. On Wednesday, Oxton feared Night Shift’s remaining supply might run out amid a canning.
The CO2 issue has compounded other challenges at the brewery, he said, namely that his facility cannot support large-scale beer making. “We’ve known that for many years and have tried to solve the problem,” he continued, “by investing millions in equipment, adjusting schedules and operations to make it more efficient.” Plans to build a new brewery in Philadelphia were scrapped after the pandemic.
The CO2 shortage was something of a straw for Night Shift. On Tuesday, the brewery announced it was shifting production from its Everett plant to contract brewing at Jack’s Abby in Framingham and Isle Brewers Guild in Rhode Island.
Night Shift expects that beer production will not be disrupted and that its tap rooms and beer gardens will continue to operate. However, the reduction in operations in Everett means jobs will likely be cut – around 50-75% of its 12-person production staff – Oxton said. But he added: “Everyone will be getting a paycheck until October 1, so there is security for the next two months. I feel for everyone who might be affected.
Oxton said Night Shift will try to find other jobs for laid-off workers within the company or place them at other breweries. Future plans for the Everett site are still fluid, he said, but the space will likely be used to develop new recipes.
Night Shift sells approximately 40,000 barrels of beer per year. In recent years, about 50% has been brewed at other companies, including Jack’s Abby, where Sam Hendler is co-founder and CEO. He said earlier this summer that his CO2 supplier was not sure he could fulfill his contracts. But this week, Hendler learned that the supplier would be able to fulfill the order.
“However, they would not be able to service current customers beyond contract demand, nor sell CO2 to anyone who is not a contract customer,” he explained. “Fortunately, we have a contract in place which is sufficient, and we will be able to skate through this.
Hendler said Jack’s Abby would be reducing a few of its batches to accommodate increased Night Shift production. “We just want to move on and make room in the schedule so they don’t run out of beer. I’ve known this for less than a week now, so it’s chaos. But we make it work.
The brewing industry has also been experiencing a shortage of cans for more than two years. Prices are high for supplies, including cardboard and graphic packaging, according to Hendler. “It’s fair across the board,” he said. “It’s like getting punched in the stomach every week.”
The Brewers Association, a national organization, said it was receiving reports of the CO2 crisis from producers across the country. Continuing shortages of delivery truck drivers are also complicating the issue, the association said in an email, adding: “It should be noted that summer is the season of peak CO2 demand, so Supply disruptions have a greater potential to turn into shortages during the summer.”
Stinchon, of Mass. Brewers Guild, which represents more than 200 breweries, said it received a flood of panicked calls and emails from other breweries.
“They get notices from their suppliers that they don’t have enough product to fulfill their contract,” Stinchon said, “or they can fulfill their order this time around, but future orders could be jeopardized. “.
She reached out to the state supply network, trying to connect with suppliers to see if they can support brewers until the supply chain stabilizes. “It’s just another thing our brewing community will have to survive and overcome during an already difficult time.”