Beer, food shortage looms due to Europe-wide carbon dioxide scarcity

A shortage of industrial CO2, the gas that puts the fizz into beer and soda, has left European beverage producers on edge. Pubs are running short of some famous booze brands, and one wholesaler is rationing supplies.

Europe's biggest brewers and soft drink makers are struggling to cope with a shortage of food-grade carbon dioxide — supplies of the gas have evaporated in the middle of a heatwave during the World Cup soccer tournament.

Production shutdowns at several chemical factories that produce CO2 as a byproduct have left beverage producers struggling to fulfill orders to pubs and restaurants.

Britain appears to be the worst hit, as its own gas manufacturers have suffered mechanical problems that have further reduced supplies.

The shortage of carbon dioxide, which puts the gas in beer, cider and soft drinks, has led one major British wholesale food and drinks supplier, Booker, to ration sales to its outlets.

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The UK's largest pub chain, Wetherspoon, also said it was running out of John Smith's bitter and Strongbow cider at many of its 4,500 properties.

Both drinks are produced by Dutch brewing group Heineken, which warned pubs last week of low stock levels. The second largest brewer has since said its three UK breweries have returned to full capacity after it found other sources of carbon dioxide.

Britvic, which bottles Pepsi drinks in the UK, said it was trying to locate additional gas supplies in Eastern Europe. Coca-Cola European Partners has slowed some production of soft drinks but said supply hadn't been affected.

But small brewers have been particularly hit hard, including Holden's Quality Bottling, which normally produces about 80,000 bottles of beer a day. This week, they've produced none after failing for 10 days to find gas.

"The company is closed. We can't turn over another penny until we've received gas from the supplier," said Mark Hammond, the director. "It's as if our whole revenue stream turned off."

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British pubs have been doing a brisk trade amid a heatwave during the World Cup

Less CO2 production in summer

Industrial CO2 is produced as a by-product of making ammonia used in fertilizer production. Fertilizer production typically peaks in winter to build stocks for spring farming.

Trade magazine Gas World blamed maintenance work at plants across Europe for the shortage of supplies.

Top gas producers include France's Air Liquide and Germany's Linde, which told The Associated Press it was trying to keep up with customers' demands by shifting European supply logistics.

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Although World Cup fans mostly bemoaned the shortage of beer and soft drinks, food production is also being hit.

Scotland's biggest pork producer announced this week it would run out of the gas in a week, forcing the country's largest pig processing plant to suspend slaughtering. Another Scottish meat supplier said it was extremely concerned about a lack of information about when the situation would be rectified.

Slaughterhouses use carbon dioxide to stun animals before slaughter, and also use it in packaging to increase shelf-life in stores.

Nick Allen, head of the British Meat Processors Association said the shortage of carbon dioxide "might well affect the price of meat."

German beer lovers unaffected

The German Brewers' Association said its members were mostly unaffected by the shortage but that the procurement of CO2 had become more expensive.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Spoilt for choice

Germany is a beer country - and that's a fact. Using only four ingredients German brewers have managed to create over 5,500 brands of beer. And that number is growing because every week a new beer is released on the market. But Germany manages quantity as well as quality: no other European country produces more beer.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

You can always have a beer

When it comes to drinking alcohol, whether at an office party, during intermission at the theater or just relaxing as pictured here in Berlin's Görlitzer Park, beer is always an appropriate choice in Germany, and can be consumed legally in public.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Traditional festivals are a must

Funfair stalls, brass bands and "Schlager" music are the ingredients of a traditional German festival. A challenge to get through unless you consume plenty of beer. For these occasions regional breweries often create a festival beer. The best known of these is probably the Oktoberfest beer, which is made especially for the festival in Munich and served in one liter Bavarian beer mugs.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Football and beer - a winning combination

Football is also a celebration, and beer goes with football the way mustard goes with a bratwurst sausage. It helps fans celebrate and consoles them if their team loses. At any stadium the link between football teams and breweries is obvious: beer advertising features on the players' shirts and banners. And in many Bundesliga football arenas the beer brand sponsoring the team is also served.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Beer can be bought round the clock

In the Ruhr area it's known as a Trinkhalle, in Mainz it is called a Büdchen and in Berlin it goes by the name of Späti. These neighborhood kiosks sell newspapers, tobacco, sweets, and usually beer. What began more than 150 years ago as a place to sell water, now serves as a pit stop for big city beer drinkers.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

The corner pub - a temple of German beer

Berlin's corner pubs, like the Willi Mangler in the Schönefeld district, are a part of German beer history. They have also become something of a cult. The mix of stuffy air, no nonsense food and a crowd of regular bar flies is what makes them so charming. Tourists rarely venture here, but residents of the neighborhood come to enjoy their after work beer.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Beer gardens - fun in the sun

Beer gardens are also traditional to German beer culture. These days they can be found all over Germany, but they originate from the beginning of the 19th century in Bavaria. Back then brewers served their beer straight from the cooling cellars along the banks of the river Isar. Especially on hot days the cellar beer gardens were popular among people from Munich.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Bavaria - cradle of the Beer Purity Law

In Bavaria, where the German Beer Purity Law was adopted in 1516, beer has been an established part of life for centuries. Today, Bavaria has more than 600 breweries, more than in any other state in Germany. In the Middle Ages the breweries were firmly in the grip of monasteries. Some of these still exist, the oldest being Weltenburg Abbey on the Danube.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Craft beer - modern brewing techniques

Traditional breweries have now been joined by more experimental beer makers like Georg-Augustin Schmidt. His micro-brewery "Braustil" in Frankfurt-am-Main produces small amounts of new varieties which have powerful aromas and are usually made with regional, organic ingredients. The craft-beer scene is especially strong in Hamburg and Berlin.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

How it's done - beer brewing seminars

Those who are crazy about beer beyond drinking it will find more than 30 beer museums, beer hikes and beer brewing seminars in Germany. You can create your own beer at the "Grillakademie" craft beer seminar in Bochum. Participants also learn about the different varieties of beer as well as German brewing traditions and, of course, the German Beer Purity Law.

Beer culture - this is how Germany drinks

Once in the right glass: Cheers!

To mark German Beer Day on April 23, here's a quick guide. From left to right: the Berliner Weisse goes in a bowl-shaped glass, Kristallweizen wheat beer in a tall glass, lager is served in a beer mug, followed by a short glass for the dark Altbier, the small, narrow glass for the Cologne Kölsch brew, the rounded glass for Pils beer and finally the Bavarian half-liter beer mug.

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"Many breweries are self-sufficient with regard to carbon dioxide, as the fermentation of beer produces a surplus of CO2. Therefore, the consequences for the brewing industry are manageable," spokesman Marc-Oliver Huhnholz told DW.

But in Berlin, Amazon Fresh has stopped offering ice cream and frozen pizza for delivery because the company is short of dry ice.

mm/uhe (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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