A nationwide shortage of carbon dioxide — a gas critical to the brewing process — has led Night Shift Brewing to drastically scale back activity and cut staff at its production facility in Everett.

And if the shortage of this gas continues, more Massachusetts breweries may find themselves in similar situations.

The independent brewer posted on Facebook on Wednesday that its CO2 supply had been cut off for the "foreseeable future" and that it is moving most of its beer production to other local breweries. Night Shift informed its employees that it will likely have to lay off people from its 12-member production staff after Oct. 1. The company said brewing will continue in Everett after the transition, but more as research and development than for production.

"It was an awful, terrible conversation to have with a really wonderful group of people, many of whom have been with us since the beginning," the company said in the post. Night Shift was founded in 2012. "It's hard to describe both how thankful we are for them, and how terrible we feel now about what they're facing."

Michael Oxton, one of the cofounders of Night Shift, said carbon dioxide plays a part in nearly every part of the beer-production process.

"You're constantly using CO2," he said. "In our facility, we're using CO2 to clean the tanks in which the beer goes into. Oxygen is beer's biggest enemy, so any beer can't go into a tank that has oxygen in it, so you have to purge every tank with CO2 before you fill it. And then once beer is in the tank, if you want to get it out, you use CO2 to basically push it out with pressure. ... And then the final place where it plays a role is making (beer) carbonated and bubbly. So if we don't have CO2, we have flat beer."

Given that CO2 is one of the most important parts of brewing beer, any disruption to its production is bound to have a negative impact on brewers. And like many other issues these days, the root of the problem can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial carbon dioxide is generally collected as the byproduct of chemical industries like ethanol production, fuel combustion and natural gas production, explained Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. But once gas production slowed because people weren't on the road as much at the start of the pandemic, that also decreased CO2 capture, creating a ripple effect.

Stinchon said the Northeast has been mostly insulated from those shortages up until recently. She pointed to a contamination issue in a major natural source of CO2 in Mississippi as a reason why Massachusetts is now facing CO2 shortages.

"Once that hit, we really started to see from our brewers that they're getting notices from their suppliers that either future deliveries are in jeopardy or that they can't fill current orders, even through their contract," she said. "There's about a dozen or so breweries that I know of that are currently struggling to either find new suppliers or are receiving notices that future deliveries might be in jeopardy."

"There's about a dozen or so breweries that I know of that are currently struggling to either find new suppliers or are receiving notices that future deliveries might be in jeopardy."
Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild

Stinchon said Night Shift is the first local brewery that is having to make cuts because of the CO2 shortage.

Luckily, Night Shift has contract brewing relationships with two other local breweries who have offered to help Night Shift with its needs. But Oxton suspects the issue will only grow.

"We've reached out now to a bunch of different other CO2 supply companies and they're all basically saying, 'Yeah, we're not taking on new clients, we have no CO2' or like 'We're only using the current clients we have,'" he said. "Our contract partners that we're gonna work with, Jack's Abby and [Isle Brewers Guild], both of them have suppliers that have guaranteed the supply of CO2 for the foreseeable future, so they're in a good spot. But at the same time, their suppliers have said 'We're absolutely not taking on anyone else; we don't have CO2 to spare.'"

Stinchon points out that smaller breweries may not be as lucky as Night Shift when it comes to having partners who can help out.

"You know, there are volume caps involved with contract brewing, they might not be able to afford to contract out someplace else," she said. "So, you know, I don't want this to happen to any more of our breweries, but I don't necessarily have a solution on how to fix it. It's mostly just time and waiting for the supply chain to steady and correct itself."

Oxton said customers probably won't see or feel any change to their products thanks to their contingency plans. But he thinks huge disruptions in craft beer production could happen across the local industry if the CO2 issue isn't resolved.

Still, he's trying to look at the bright side of the story. And he's urging customers to think locally with their wallets.

"We're able to basically partner up with two other local companies that are gonna help us ride this wave," he said. "So supporting the companies that are keeping these local companies afloat I think is a pretty big deal. So buy local beer might be the message."