Local breweries making a difference with natural carbonation

“We did some sensory testing and it’s definitely a positive,” says Jonas Hurtig, head brewer at Cabin Brewing (505 36 Ave SE;

Hurtig is talking about carbonating beer with the natural carbon dioxide produced from fermentation, rather than injecting CO2 from another (purchased) source. When yeast ferments the sugars in beer, it produces not only alcohol, but CO2. Usually, that CO2 is allowed to vent to atmosphere. If you’ve ever toured a brewery and noticed a hose bubbling in a bucket of water, you’ve witnessed CO2 venting.

The nature of brewing, which involves moving beer from tank to tank (a process that itself uses CO2) and changing the temperature of beer (CO2 is more soluble in colder liquids, which is why beer and soda go flat when warm) means that retaining natural carbonation in beer is burdensome. But many believe natural carbonation not only saves some money, but produces better beer. 

“When yeast is off-gassing, it’s not just gas. There are aromas and flavours in those bubbles, so by keeping the natural CO2, you get more depth of flavour,” explains Hurtig. “We also noticed better foam. We get tighter bubbles; it looks more like meringue.”

Blake Enemark, head brewer at Tailgunner Brewing (1602 10th Avenue SW; takes the idea one step further. “When you walk through a taproom, if you see a nice, tight foam cap on all the beers, you know you can trust any beer that brewery makes. With natural carbonation, you get smaller, finer bubbles, better mouthfeel, better head retention and better lacing (the foam left clinging to the side of the glass).”

But not all beer can be naturally carbonated. CO2, being a waste product of the yeast, is “poisonous” to yeast and some strains tolerate it better than others. Lager yeasts tend to fair better with natural carbonation than ale yeasts do. Conversely, dry-hopped beers are rarely naturally carbonated since the dry hopping process releases most of the gas in solution unless specialized equipment is used, something many breweries cannot afford.

When beer can be naturally carbonated, about 80 per cent of the final beer’s gas can come from fermentation, preventing the release of that greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. It is a beautiful and delicious way for breweries to reduce their carbon footprint.

At Cabin, Luminosity German Pil is naturally carbonated. At Tailgunner, all of their lagers are. You can also try naturally carbonated beers at Annex Ales (some of their small batch beers such as Bitter Division, Borrowed Time and Subtle Type are naturally carbonated), Bitter Sisters (Uncle Philsner Pilsner), Dandy Brewing (Dandy Premium Lager, Dandy Light and a soon-to-be-released west coast DIPA), Eighty-Eight Brewing (all lagers and their current seasonal Cruise Control West Coast IPA, and Establishment Brewing (all lagers, bottled wild beers and their new line of canned wild beers such as Chaise Longue).

Try these beers and see if you can see and taste the difference.