Will the hot summer see Shropshire's beer run dry?

Sizzling summer weather coupled with England's flying start in the World Cup should be great news for Shropshire's pubs and breweries.

Wilf Nelson of Salopian Brewery
Wilf Nelson of Salopian Brewery

But the good cheer could be threatened by a beer crisis, brought about by a shortage of gas used to put the fizz in many favourite drinks.

Pubs and brewers warn that some drinks could run out within days unless they are able to get new supplies of carbon dioxide, the gas which is used in lagers, some beers and ciders, and fizzy drinks such as lemonade and cola.

And Britain's biggest wholesaler has begun rationing supplies of canned and bottled beers, ciders and soft drinks to cope with a surge in demand.

Carbon dioxide, also known as CO2, has been in short supply since a number of suppliers scaled back production over the summer for maintenance work.

J D Wetherspoon, which has pubs in Oswestry, Wellington, Shrewsbury, Market Drayton and Bridgnorth, says "there is definitely going to be a problem," while Heineken says its Amstel and John Smith's Extra Smooth had been hit. Coca-Cola is also facing disruption to its supply.

While "real ale", which is supplied in unpressurised casks, is not directly affected, many breweries use CO2 for in the cleaning and bottling processes.

CO2 is also used extensively in food production and packaging.

Wilf Nelson, of Salopian Brewery in Hadnall, near Shrewsbury, said he had enough stocks of CO2 to last about a fortnight.

"We use a lot of CO2, we use it in the bottling process, we use it to flush vessels out, we use it for cleaning," he said.

"We can function without CO2, for some things there are other inert gases you can use, such as nitrogen, but if you are carbonating drinks it obviously has to be CO2," he says.

Vicky Shirley of Joule's in Market Drayton says the brewery had yet to experience any difficulties.

"We have an excellent rapport with our suppliers and with our robust stock management system we are confident that this shortage will not affect production in our brewery and taphouses," she said.

Duncan Borrowman, who keeps the Bailey Head pub in Oswestry with wife Grace Goodlad, did not receive his usual delivery of the carbon dioxide this week.

"We currently have about 10 days' worth, but if we don't get any next week it will start having an impact," he said.

"We have started putting plans in place, we can keep 10 lines of beer on without it, but we won't be able to have our normal lagers.

"It affects soft drinks like cola, lemonade and soda, both of our lagers, and a couple of our guest beers, as well as the cider.

"Some people may switch to a cask ale instead, but people who only drink lager won't be able to, and it will be the same with Pepsi. We will try to get some bottles in, but I understand they are being rationed too."

The food and drink industry is hoping that supplies of carbon dioxide will return to normal next month as supply resumes, but trade organisations have expressed concern about the timing.

Brigid Simmonds, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said while there had been problems across Europe, the situation in Britain was complicated by major equipment failures.

"Given the time of year and the World Cup, this situation has arisen at an unfortunate time for the brewing industry,” she said.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, described the shortage as a 'significant crisis', although she said pubs and bars had not yet begun limiting beer sales to consumers.

"Clearly, venues are going to have to plan very thoroughly if wholesalers are beginning to ration their products," she said.

"Suppliers are working hard to resolve the issue and manage mitigate the impact on venues, but the crisis should not have been allowed to develop to this extent and needs to be swiftly resolved.

“If the shortage in CO2 is not dealt with pretty quickly, then some venues could find themselves facing real trouble."

She warned adding that safeguards must be implemented to stop the same thing happening again.

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