In case you didn’t know, the world is a complicated place. Goods and industries are interdependent in ways that never occur to many people, which is why shock quickly spread at the news that, in the midst of the World Cup, beer was being rationed at bars from London to Moscow. The culprit had nothing to do with a lack of actual beer, but instead a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is injected into beer in order to carbonate it. Because, even for the Germans, whose World Cup hopes were dashed by some plucky South Koreans, there is no greater tragedy than a flat beer.
The CO2 shortage sprang up because the majority of the gas that is sold to make beer and soda fizzy is a byproduct of ammonia fertilizer. Despite the presence of CO2 all around us, it isn’t economically efficient to try to trap it in the air. Typically, fertilizer plants in Europe shut down during the late spring and early summer. But as Sarah Zhang notes in The Atlantic, “Higher natural-gas prices have pushed production costs up while the price of ammonia has stayed static, so plants have been in no hurry to reopen.” Those closed plants meant no fertilizer production, which meant no CO2 production.
It got so bad that U.K. food and drink wholesaler Booker limited its customers to just 10 cases of beer each. Heineken, the second biggest beer company in the world, warned bars to expect supply shortages. This isn’t the first time a CO2 shortage has hit the market. Gas industry publication Gasworld says it’s the fourth one in the last decade or so.
The good news is that it looks as if the shortage may pass. One large producer of CO2 came back online last week, although Gasworld said it expects the problem will persist for at least another couple weeks as supplies recover. Sounds like a good time to become a scotch drinker.