Metalcraft Fabrication

By Gregory Daurer | Feb 23, 2017

Company Details

Founder Charlie Frye artfully manufactures kettles, tanks, and other equipment for the craft beer industry.

"I was seeking a career change in my mid-twenties," says Frye, who previously worked in the bike industry, "and I was looking for an outlet where I could be creative. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn't want to starve."

Frye learned stainless steel welding while working for another Oregon tank and vessel manufacturer. He went independent in 2007, working out of his own garage, before moving into a 13,000-square-foot building in 2009. About three years ago, Frye relocated his operations to a 30,000-square-foot space in Northwest Portland.

Metalcraft Fabrication (MCF) manufactures kettles, whirlpools, mash and lauter tuns, tanks, and vessels. Its products are currently being used by breweries in about 30 different states -- and on three different continents. (Earlier this year, Frye shipped some custom work to Australia.)

Since its humble origins, MCF's sales have exponentiated. "The first year we grossed $180,000," says Frye. "And, then, the next year, we did $1 million. . . . And we've been at about $6 million, for the last two years."

Frye says MCF's attention-to-detail and customer service have resulted in industry word-of-mouth. The company also assists breweries meet stringent spatial requirements: "We're building four breweries in New York City, this year, and those are all going into older buildings, so it'll take a special design to put these larger brewing systems into these buildings."

It also takes a special kind of welder to produce food- and beverage-grade stainless steel tanks with easy to clean surfaces, he notes.

"Stainless steel welding is one of the more difficult welding processes out there," says Frye. He often tells people that out of 100 people who are able to weld steel, probably only ten of those are able to weld stainless -- that is, just making something stick together. And then the field reduces further, when it comes to "sanitary stainless welding," he adds. "Being able to produce a weld that you can grind away, and have the weld be no longer visible like you would see in a stainless steel countertop, and have it hold pressure, have structural integrity: one out of 100 guys can do that."

He adds, "That's the art."

Frye appreciates artful brewing: for five years in a row, his company hosted the Cheers to Belgian Beers festival, organized by the Oregon Brewers Guild.

A number of GABF-medal winners are among those using Metalcraft's products. Frye's customer list includes Hopworks Urban Brewery, Laurelwood Brewing Co., Cigar City Brewing, Midnight Sun Brewing Co., and pFriem Family Brewers. In the Rockies, customers include Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver, Albuquerque's La Cumbre Brewing Co., and Santa Fe Brewing Company.

Frye says, "It helped us build a brand: working with breweries that are known around the country, if not the world."

He adds, "That's always been a big part of our story: the level of brewery that's comes to us for their equipment, and how they've been able to continue to win awards, to continue to buy product off of us, and then promote us to the rest of the community. [That's] something that we're really proud of."

Challenges: "Finding qualified welders," says Frye. "Then, competing with overseas manufacturers."

Opportunities: "Standardizing our process to be more competitive [with] overseas manufacturers," says Frye. "There's [presently] more of a demand for standardized componentry than there is for custom."

Due to changes in the beer market -- limited shelf space at stores, leading to reduced outputs for both newer and existing brands 00 Frye says orders for larger tanks are decreasing: "It is slowing a bit in the larger tank sector, but there's still a lot of growth when it comes to brewpubs and brew systems." While 30-barrel systems have been common, Frye is seeing a resurgent demand for 10-barrel brewhouses.

And although there have sometimes been wait times of six months to a year for customers, lately MCF has been able to deliver products within four months: "Making it easier for people to purchase systems, and being able to predict when they're going to get their product as opposed to waiting these lengthy lead times, I think, is an opportunity for us to be a more sophisticated manufacturer."

Needs: "We have a very Old World process here," says Frye. "So we look forward to implementing some changes to allow us to be more efficient."

He adds, "Right now, we're interested in partnering with somebody who has the ability to help us implement these advanced manufacturing processes. . . . That's what I'm actively pursuing."