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World Cup Fans on Verge of Drinking Russia Dry

Europe also faces beer shortage

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In the United States, football reigns supreme over all sports. Whether high school, college or professional, pigskin tossing is ever-present, even in the off-season. In most of the rest of the world, though, another kind of football is, hands-down, the sport of choice. Here in the States, we call this sport ‘soccer’ and, right now, it’s in the spotlight with the biennial championship, the World Cup. As in the U.S., beer is essential for many fans watching the games worldwide.

This year, there’s a bit of a beer crisis. Northern Europe and Russia are having a shortage of beer for a variety of reasons. In Russia, where the World Cup is being played, thirsty fans are simply drinking more beer than was anticipated. In Europe, the snag is a carbon dioxide shortage; the gas adds carbonation to beer and soft drinks.

Russian beer sales have been decreasing for the last decade, due to increased taxes and stricter regulations—bars, restaurants and other outlets were unprepared for the stampede of tourist soccer fans.

“We just didn’t think they would only want beer,” one waiter at an upscale Moscow restaurant reportedly told Reuters. The waiter went on to say the restaurant ran out of draft lager and it took at least 24 hours for new deliveries, as suppliers are running low, too.

Europe’s CO2 shortage stems from plants shutting down earlier this year for maintenance or refurbishment. CO2 is a byproduct of ammonia production; in addition to carbonating drinks, it’s used to keep products like meats and salads fresher longer. Some European cities even use the gas to purify water.

A CO2 shortage is no big deal for craft brewers, which usually rely on natural carbonation; CO2 is a byproduct of the fermentation process. When yeast eats the sugars in wort—the unfermented liquid—it secretes both alcohol and CO2.

Smaller brewers and most homebrewers also carbonate through bottle fermentation, which means adding a small amount of sugar to the bottle before filling. Leftover yeast eats the sugar and works its magic. As the bottle is tightly capped, the gas has nowhere to go and dissolves into the liquid.

On the other hand, larger breweries often force carbonation by pumping CO2 into kegs or combining it with beer in the line leading to the tap. For the beer to stay carbonated, it must remain under pressure in a sealed container. Once opened, the dissolved CO2 rushes to escape, creating those familiar, refreshing bubbles.

With another week of World Cup to go, European fans may have to slow their beer drinking, especially since food wholesaler Booker began rationing beer and cider. The supplier is limiting each customer to just 10 cases of beer, or five of cider or soft drinks.

American World Cup fans can be glad there’s no shortage of beer here. Just keep in mind it’s not polite to rub that in the faces of your European brethren. If they mention that America didn’t make it to the World Cup this year, well, you may toss back good-natured ribbing.

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