NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Local breweries still feeling the squeeze of the COVID pandemic now have a new issue to contend with: a carbon dioxide shortage. 

This summer, natural contamination of the Jackson volcano, an extinct volcano in Mississippi that serves as a source of carbon dioxide for beverage makers across the country, was discovered, prompting CO2 suppliers to notify clients and make moves to keep their contracts. But, local breweries said they’re well-positioned to handle any potential supply chain disruptions. 

The contamination has exacerbated an ongoing CO2 shortage stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen local brewers like Alex Barr, Director of Brewing Operations at Fat Bottom, face shortages in multiple products, including grain, aluminum for cans and more. 

Alex Barr, Director of Brewing Operations at Fat Bottom Brewing Co. in West Nashville, inspects the carbon dioxide tank that provides the carbonation needed for the brewing process. (WKRN photo)

“With any staff shortages that people have seen over the years in processing plants of any size and kind, the same thing has been true for CO2,” he told News 2. “There’s been rumblings on and off for about two years, with certain plants shutting down and coming back online and other plants shutting down and staying shut down. There’s just been an ebb and flow of CO2 supply.” 

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Adam Diskin, Partner of Diskin Cider, said the supply issues could be devastating for smaller operations, but Diskin is well-positioned to weather the storm. 

“Unfortunately in what we do, it wasn’t a big shock, because we’ve gone through it with the cans and aluminum in the can shortage. The important thing is having those good partners in the business that can come through. It could be terribly detrimental, especially for producers who are smaller. It’s huge,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a great supplier in town who’s warned us, and we’ve kind of seen it come and go and seen prices [adjust] accordingly.”  

Barr also highlighted the work of Fat Bottom’s supplier as a key component in how the brewery is approaching the shortage. 

“Volunteer Welding are the people we work with here in town,” Barr said. “They saw the writing on the wall in 2020 and started positioning themselves to be able to hold more CO2 and be able to deliver more. They have assured me that they’re very well-positioned to be able to meet demand and meet our supply. I feel fairly at ease relative to all the scary stories about CO2.” 

Both breweries told News 2 they have been watching price increases and doing their best to keep their prices for consumers as low as they can despite the unstable market for their ingredients. 

A large tank outside Fat Bottom Brewing Co. holds thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide
A large tank outside Fat Bottom Brewing Co. holds thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide. (WKRN photo)

“Unfortunately, our input prices have gone up 35% in the last two years and even 20% in the last year, both from CO2 and cans,” Diskin said. “We’re an agricultural product, so we’re subject to the crop.“ 

“We really try to eat as much of that as possible, because at the end of the day – for Fat Bottom specifically – we want our beers to be an accessible beer and an accessible price point,” Barr said. “We really don’t like to take price hikes, because we want people to enjoy our beer. Adding a couple dollars to a six-pack can deter somebody from trying something for the first time or going back to re-buy.” 

“Everybody kind of has to go up, but luckily we’ve been able to stay pretty stable,” he added. 

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Both brewers said they feel their businesses are in a place where they can still provide beloved beverages to the Nashville area and beyond. 

“We just did it once; we think we can do it again,” Diskin said. “Hopefully, being in a place where we can be proactive to it is the key.” 

“We really haven’t had any issues with supply at all. There’s been no instances of non-delivery. We have a big bulk tank outside that holds about 12,000 pounds of CO2, and that bulk tank has not hit zero ever,” Barr said.