Europe’s HOT And Running Out Of Beer

S’Arenal Beach, Mallorca, Islas Baleares, Spain — Copyright Tricia Levasseur

The ongoing heatwave in Europe is fuelling not only dangerous fires but demand for beer:

Sweden is known for its scenic Scandinavian winters, not for being on the frontline of arctic wildfires. Two months of hot, dry weather has turned the country into a tinderbox with fire officials saying they’ve tackled 60 fires in July alone.

Meanwhile in Greece, the country has suffered serious loss of life in the Athens area where the heatwave encouraged a fire set by arson to spread. Euronews is reporting more than 90 people have died and dozens more are still missing.

In the center of Europe, countries are also coping with fires. It’s been so hot in Germany over the last few weeks, riot police that are usually dispatched to push back protestors have been out punishing the heat with their water cannons to prevent more fires from sparking in lush green areas. Further, authorities say this summer has turned into Germany’s worst drought in 60 years.

From no bottles to no bubbles, Europe’s having beer problems:

Another consequence of this summer’s scorching heatwave is that with temperatures soaring people are trying to cool themselves by pouring a cold one at record rates and now the beer is running out.

Supermarket bottle recycling center at Lidl in Berlin — Copyright Tricia Levasseur

In Germany brewers are struggling to bottle beer quick enough to restock shelves. That’s because the country has a deposit-refund recycling program and people are drinking faster than they are recycling. It works like this: every time a shopper buys a beer in Germany they pay a deposit of €.08 to €.15 cents ($.09 to $.18) per bottle. This is refunded when the shopper returns the bottle to a supermarket’s recycling center. Once supermarkets collect the used bottles, they are returned to the brewers to be reused, cutting out the need for sorting and processing.

There are an estimated two billion reusable bottles in circulation among Germany’s 82.6 million population, with a single bottle being refilled on average 36 times. It’s common to find a long line of people returning bottles but that rebate amount isn’t always enough of a motivator to encourage consumers to drag their empties back to stores when temperatures rise and they could be enjoying fun summer activities including, drinking beer. On the producer’s side, there isn’t one bottle style that fits all. Different brewers use different shaped bottles. Others brand their names into the glass.

Recycling at the Pfandautomat in Berlin — Copyright Tricia Levasseur
“There are always delays getting bottles back in the summer months, but this year the problem is particularly acute.” 
-Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, Spokesman, German Brewers Association

The challenge is especially difficult for startup, independent, regional, and family-run breweries. For example, an independent brewery in the western German city of Bochum has launched an urgent appeal to consumers via Facebook.

“We need your help although we regularly buy new empty bottles, they’re becoming scarce in our bottling facility. So before you go on summer holidays, please bring your Moritz Fiege empties back to the shop. First the deposit, then the party!”
 — Fiege Brewery, Facebook Appeal

A brewery spokesperson told Deutsche Welle that Fiege normally bottles 100,000 to 120,000 beers a day, but this summer’s heatwave has driven that figure up to between 150,000 and 160,000.

The bottle shortage is a problem because most breweries can’t just call up bottlemakers and order more new ones. Glass bottles are produced seasonally and orders usually have to be placed a year in advance.

London’s City skyscrapers alongside the Thames River and Tower of London — Copyright Tricia Levasseur

Britain’s beer is running out of bubbles:

Meanwhile, travel to the British isles and the UK’s biggest wholesaler has been forced to ration beer, cider and soft drinks this summer as demand rose amid the heatwave plus England’s unexpected and incredible World Cup campaign which came up against a shortage of food-grade carbon dioxide gas (CO2). Carbon dioxide is part of the food technology behind pouring a pint of draught beer and its a critical ingredient in carbonated soft drinks. The BBC reports that Ei Group, which has 4,500 properties, is working with pub owners to source alternative beers where needed around the country.

UK newspapers report on Britain’s beer woes- Source: Guardian

Going to the corner shop to buy beer instead of the pub? According to the Guardian newspaper Booker, a company that supplies thousands of convenience stores, has had to temporarily limit beer and soft drinks purchases to 10 cases per customer and cider to five cases.

Bloomberg News says the CO2 shortage has put beer supplies at risk until at least September. That’s because the gas, which gives soda its fizz and is used to pump beer, package food, and even stun pigs before they are slaughtered, is in short supply due to planned maintenance closures at a high number of European ammonia plants that produce CO2.

Toronto tourist visiting London’s Borough Market for fish n’ chips and a pint - Copyright Tricia Levasseur

The plant closures come at time when the warmer weather, World Cup games and vacation season typically spikes demand for fizzy drinks, draught beer and barbecue meat. While many countries in northern Europe have been affected including Norway and Germany, the Telegraph reports that the UK has been hardest hit because it imports most of the CO2 it uses and at times it’s has had just one operational plant inside the country. The high price of natural gas, which is a key raw material in ammonia production, has also had a knock-on effect in limiting production.

“Supply issues here in the UK are being further complicated by a combination of planned plant shutdowns and unexpected equipment failure, in particular in connection with one of the two major national producers of bulk CO2.” 
- Spokesperson, British Beer and Pubs Association

NASA scientists say the current heatwave has been boosted by an unusual positioning and persistence of the jet stream. Since May, the jet stream has been stationed far north, in a wavy pattern, particularly over Europe. This has caused record high temperatures and the heat has turned typically green landscapes to brown.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Meteorologists say that there won’t be a break from the heat anytime soon. Forecasters predict temperatures above 30c/86f for the UK, mercury reaching 39c/102f in Germany and temperatures potentially above 40c/104f in France this week. So if you’re in Europe — keep calm, water your plants (if you’re not under a hose-pipe ban yet!), and grab yourself a cold one to keep cool (if you can get your hands on a bottle!).

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