Hard times call for flat beer
Real ale may be the solution to Britain's CO2 shortage
If there’s an overall theme to the events of the past few years, it’s the proof that the increasingly interconnected global economy has embedded within it new vulnerabilities to sudden unexpected shocks. A crisis at one end of the world may have unpredictable results at the other, leading to shortages in completely unexpected areas. And among the unintended costs of the rising energy prices brought about by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a threat to Britain’s millennia-old social lubricant: beer.
In bad news for drinkers of commercial lagers, brewers have warned this week that the country is facing a beer shortage, as supplies of CO2 needed to give lager its gaseous fizz have suddenly dwindled. Why? Because commercial CO2 production is a byproduct of the fertiliser industry, and industrial producers of ammonia are shutting down their production due to rising wholesale gas prices.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
With the country’s major CO2 production plant in Billingham — responsible for nearly a third of UK supply — shutting down production last month, Britain’s brewers are facing early last orders. As Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association warned the Mirror:
But every crisis contains within it the seeds of opportunity, at least for beer snobs like me. After all, what’s bad for lager may well be a welcome boost for brewers of Britain’s traditionally flat and tepid real ale, a drink whose limited carbonation is a product of natural fermentation in the cask, and whose journey from keg to glass relies more on the strength of the barmaid’s arm at the hand pump than of the suddenly fragile chemical industry. Just as the Covid lockdowns led to a precipitous expansion of Britain’s homebrewing fraternity as bored office workers (including me) turned their idle hands to making their own beer, so could commercial lager’s difficulty become real ale’s opportunity.
As the real ale pressure group CAMRA smugly observed during last year’s lesser CO2 shortage, “with cask products, served in the traditional way, likely to have less environmental impact and be less reliant on gas supplies, this is a reminder to pubs and drinkers that there are more sustainable ways of enjoying beer, cider and perry” — advice which is doubly true today.
Even still, tweedy post-liberals salivating over a great Chestertonian real ale restoration shouldn’t raise their foaming tankards just yet: rising energy bills still threaten the viability of Britain’s thriving craft beer industry, as well as the survival of the thousands of pubs around which the country’s social life, for good or ill, revolves.
Even still, it’s hard to avoid a broader conclusion from the brewing industry’s woes. With no medium-term solution on the horizon to rising energy costs, and the nuclear revival some decades away from fruition, there remains the nagging sense that we are heading into a mini-collapse of the late twentieth century world. Essentially, a sudden, unavoidable reversion to simpler technological forms.
From the revival of sail for shipping cargo, to reversion to burning wood for heat and now to lager’s potential eclipse by traditional ale, our lived experience of the next few decades may suddenly and unexpectedly look more like the world of the near past than the hyper-modernity we all expected.
If we drop the duty on cask-based real ale to zero and so encourage the drinking population back into pubs where they can share heat and light, we will have reduced CO2, reduced energy usage at home, cut driving, and made a lot of people very happy and more connected with their local community. Sounds like a plan.
Gets my vote.
Why on earth characterize real ale as “traditionally flat and tepid”? There’s also nothing snobbish about appreciating the quality and variety of real ale available nowadays – it’s simply a matter of trying it, enjoying it and then trying as many different ales as possible, which i do with great enthusiasm. None of them are “flat and tepid”, and if they are, i return them to the bar for a replacement.
What was produced “traditionally” wasn’t what we now recognise as real ale. Sure, there may be some similarities in production methods and the way they’re ‘kept’ but the end product is a world away from the centuries-old stuff that was the mainstay of people’s liquid intake (at very low ABV) due to the disease-ridden water usually available; especially before the introduction of tea, which has anti-bacterial properties and is given credit for helping the mass populations in the 19th century slums from succumbing to water-bourne illnesses.
I feel desperately sad for those still quaffing lager. It’s the equivalent of drinking Liebraumilch instead of a decent Merlot or Malbec. So, the import of this article is well-meant, just poor in its exposition.
And by the way, i don’t have a beer gut despite my best efforts!
Glad to say we have many excellent small breweries here in Shropshire and the Welsh borders producing some superb beers. Speaking as a consumer that is.
Indeed. My son-in-law hails from Ludlow and he had a cask of Ludlow Gold brought up for his wedding last year which i duly enjoyed!
All by yourself? Good effort, Sir!
There are those who think that if beer doesn’t freeze your tonsils as it goes down it’s tepid. I have sent beer back because it’s too cold; I like to be able to taste the the beer. I associate freezing cold beer with the first time I drank a beer in the USA, where (at that time) it was better that way as the taste was so bad.
You’re absolutely correct and that’s the only way that US cooking lager can be quaffed. My preference is to drink pale lagers such as hells or pilsners at fridge temperature, but not ice cold; dunkels, bitters and other ales should be a couple of degrees warmer to bring out the flavour.
Worryingly, some of CAMRA’s recent missives seem to have nods to wokery in them. I hope the beer-gutted beardies can hold their line!
But I should cheer up really, as it’s Friday and nearly beer-o-clock. Good health to you all!
It’s a popular boy-ish (and girl-ish, too?) fantasy to wake up one morning to a world turned upside-down and backwards. Sailing ships and horse drawn buggies…and real ale!
Now let’s see how the grown-ups react if/when it actually happens.
One thing is pretty much guaranteed: there will always be beer.
” And among the unintended costs of the rising energy prices brought about by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a threat to Britain’s millennia-old social lubricant: beer.”
sigh,,,, and inflation and the largest wealth transfer in history, from working people to the ultra wealthy, was brought about by covid…..
I see why the writer shows hobbits, he believes in simple fairy tails handed to him by the MSM – oh, thats right, he is MSM…., so remember Putin took your beer……although, not making that fertilizer, that the CO2 is a byproduct of, means global Famine – but that is Putin’s fault, same as your Pension becoming worthless and people living on them will soon be eating cat-food sandwiches because that is all they can afford – again because of Putin…so when you are eating your stale cat-food sandwich, and no beer to wash it down – remember it is all – like everything that is wrong is, all Putin’s fault – and nothing to do with your governemnt or the Global Elites, or the huge Hedge Funds, or banks and Brokerage houses…
The CBC blamed the high cost of food in Canada on extreme weather events (ie global warming) and Putin. Trudeau borrowing money and pumping it into the economy for 7 years (well before Covid), shutting down our economy and paying people not to work, taxing energy, and blocking unvaccinated truckers at the border had nothing to do with it.
I used to make my own beer. It would be fermented in a barrel and then bottled. It was really fizzy from natural carbonation. So I guess I don’t understand why you need CO2 injectors to have fizzy beer.
“traditionally flat and tepid” – Not what a decent shop would offer. The traditional ales proffer full flavors over the nominal bland lager similar to some IPAs. They are live beers still producing their own carbonation if treated well. Treated well means they can’t take shipping well without ending up with that awful flatness of a bad shop.
But the bottlers need to team up with those CO2 capture companies. Rather than produce the gas from fuels, can’t the stuff be captured and sold to brewers?
These shocks are only unexpected if you were one of those dim types who thought we could easily do without “fossil fuels”, which term helpfully keeps them ignorant of the wide applications of hydrocarbons.
Or if you thought the only economic problem was distribution of wealth, and never understood the how and why of wealth creation.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe