Simple, yet a perfectly poured brew is anything but.
Its production involves the orchestration of chemistry, temperature, timing and pressure. Brewers usher it from vat to keg in the right balance, and a good bartender will tilt the glass for the ale or lager and serve it up with just the right head of foam, allowing the flavor to break through.
But there’s a crucial and tricky link in the chain – the length of hose from the keg to the tap. A long-draw beer system uses gas to push the beer on its penultimate journey, but use the wrong amount of carbon dioxide and the beer will be foamy or flat, the product wasted. Use forced air, and oxygen ruins the taste.
A family-owned company in Helena has pioneered equipment allowing the service industry to ensure the brewer’s intentions reach the pint glass.
Mike Cartee adds a McDantim gas blender to a control panel. The North Montana Ave. company is a leader in its niche, serving the berverage industry along with other commercial and scientific applications.
In a town not known for its manufacturing industry, McDantim, Inc. has quietly built itself a vibrant market for its particular niche: a series of gas blenders that give proprietors the ability to mix carbon dioxide and nitrogen on-site, saving themselves money in their gas purchases and allowing them a higher number of quality beers per keg.
The equipment assembled on North Montana can be found in more than a dozen establishments here in Helena, as well as across the U.S. and in Canada, Mexico and Latin America. Two McDantim products help distribute all of the beer in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Along with a sister company in Great Britain part-owned by the same family, McDantim stands virtually alone in the worldwide market by focusing almost exclusively on beverage blenders – and the company also makes gas-blending equipment for a variety of other applications, including welding, food packaging and scientific endeavors.
“We’re the only company in the world that does beer blenders specifically,” said Dan Fallon, who owns the company with his brother and sister. “We probably sell 99 percent of the beverage blenders in the world” in conjunction with the British firm.
And the company strives to be successful in more ways than the bottom line – employees call it a model of how to run a good business and treat people well.
All of the products’ key components are purchased from U.S. manufacturers, including a machine shop in Los Angeles owned by a family who has a long relationship with the Fallons.
Fallon and his siblings inherited the business in 1991 from their late father, who got into the trade by working to engineer a system at the behest of Guinness. The iconic Irish brewery required a unique solution for distributing its stout, which is nitrogen-charged, unlike most other beers.
After a few years working as a one-man shop in Bend, Ore., Fallon moved to Helena in 1995 to marry his wife. He sold 16 gas blenders that year. This year the company, which has grown to 16 full-time and two part-time employees, will move about 5,000 units.
The growth has been a matter of education, rather than a hard sell.
“More than selling blenders, we started selling the concept of using mixed gas to distribute beer,” Fallon said. “We try to teach people about how gas impacts beer. It’s not a simple story to tell, and it’s taken years.”
Like most of the business world, the company took a hit during the recent recession, but McDantim’s sales rebounded in 2010, and this year has included three record sales months so far.
“This is far and away our best year ever,” Fallon said. “2010 was a good year for us, and this year has been dynamite.”
Despite the fact that much of its business is done outside Montana, the company has been heavily involved with the beverage and service industries in Helena and across the state.
Fallon and his employees have learned much from the Capital City’s craft brewers – the
Blackfoot and Lewis and Clark breweries.
The company’s first beer blender in Helena was installed at Bert and Ernie’s, at the corner of Lawrence and Last Chance Gulch.
And Fallon has worked hard to cultivate his most precious local resource, his employees.
“We try really hard to be a good place to work,” he said, noting the company has employed about 40 people in its 16 years in Helena – when new hires work out, they tend to stay.
Production manager Justin Trafton has been there 15 years, starting on the production floor at age 19.
“It’s friendly,” he said. “I’ve grown up here. We’re flexible – we try to balance family life and working life.”
Mike Cartee, who started assembling gas blenders about a year ago, appreciates the laid-back atmosphere, his coworkers and the management style.
“It’s a good group of people to work with, to work for,” he said.
Pat Inman started May 1. He was diagnosed with cancer the same day. Management gave him the time he needed to heal, and he’s back at work with a smile on his face, one week after doctors told him he’s now cancer-free.
“This place is a gem that most people in town don’t know about,” Inman said. “All companies should take note of how good this company is, how well they take care of their employees. This is the company to work for.”