Gas supplier still feeling the strain from carbon dioxide shortage

Tom Knox, head brewer, Colchester Breweries. Picture: Tom Knox

Tom Knox, head brewer, Colchester Breweries. Picture: Tom Knox - Credit: Archant

The shortage of carbon dioxide that forced some supermarkets and pubs to ration fizzy drinks sales has not gone away yet.

David Lancaster of Cellair, a company based in Ipswich that offers a localised fortnightly delivery service of beer gas dispense gases around Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridge, explains that supply is starting to come through - but only “very slowly.”

“We just had a delivery this morning,” he said. “Although it wasn’t the full quota, at least it means we can keep going.

“But its not gone back to normal. We are not getting our full deliveries, but at least we are able to satisfy all our customers, nobody has gone without gas.”

Mr Lancaster believes that the UK supply of carbon dioxide will “gradually improve” from now on. He explained: “As time goes on, more factories are coming back online which have been closed for maintenance. As stocks go back to normal, the people who need the CO2 supply the most - the medical and food industry - they will take priority first to get supplies of stock before us. But the fact is that at least we are getting stock coming through.”

But the City analysts Liberum are warning that a dearth of investment in the European sector could leave the UK exposed to future shortages.

European supply arrangements “could remain fragile” with major investments in the coming years set for Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and India rather than Europe.

Most Read

Liberum said: “Whilst this year’s supply problems will ease as ammonia plant maintenance shutdowns come to an end, the source of the problem is unlikely to be resolved quickly.”

If the present Co2 shortage does become a long term issue, then it might be to the benefit of smaller local breweries who use an style of fermentation that carbonates the beers naturally. One such establishment is Colchester Brewery in Wakes Colne. Their head brewer Tom Know claims that although increasing numbers of micro-breweries are now using more Co2 within their processes, its “on a much smaller scale” than the big breweries. “You won’t run out of beer, not on our shift anyway,” he said. “Within the beer industry, it is predominately the big brewers that are feeling the pinch, because they produce keg beers using Co2 to carbonate and dispense their beers. It’s a style that was invented to emulate the traditional indigenous beers brewed in these isles for centuries.”

Like many other independent brewers, Colchester Breweries employs an old-style fermentation system called “double drop”, which means their beer is naturally carbonated by the secondary fermentation within the casks or bottles by yeast converting the natural sugars from malted barley. “This process which is hard and skilful to control, resulting in our opinion in a superior product.”