The Session: 6 Questions With Ten Mile Brewing’s Dan and Jesse Sundstrom
Ten Mile Brewing is the epitome of a family-run business. Situated in an industrial park in 2.2-square mile Signal Hill (the itty bitty city is encircled by Long Beach, much like the working man’s Beverly Hills of South Bay), the brewery sits across the street from Sunnyside Cemetery and has more than a few oil pumpjacks within walking distance. If you sit down for a pint, you’ll always see someone related to co-founders Dan and Jesse Sundstrom, if not the father-son duo themselves.
When Ten Mile first lifted its garage door in September 2017, father and brewmaster Dan and son and head brewer Jesse were impossible to miss. For the first eight months, the pair brewed from 6 a.m. until opening, ran the taproom, closed down the brewery, and then came back every morning to do it all over again. Many other members of the Sundstrom clan were present as well, as employees were literally family. “We have been called a father-and-son operation from the beginning because Jesse and I homebrewed together for many years, but it’s much more than that,” Dan tells Hopped LA. “Every family member plays an important role.”
Though they’ve since hired beertenders from outside their bloodline, Sundstroms still do the bulk of the work. Dan’s wife, Joann, handles all back-of-house operations, from bookkeeping and scheduling to permits and record keeping. His daughter, Emma Taylor, handles events, public interaction, employee management, festivals, press, and ordering, while son Aaron, who is also in the medical field, handles HR, policy, and hiring, and both of their spouses take part in family discussions and decisions. Jesse’s wife, Kelly, is an artist and part of the crew as well, creating all can and product designs. Even the family dog hits the brewery floor; their Akita, Barley, is happy to welcome you with a smile and a slobber.
Their passion, resiliency, and commitment to good beer is truly what makes this a special operation — and Barley, of course. Here’s six more things you should know about these Sundstrom men and their formidable family.
Emily Krauser: What made you both want to get into beer professionally?
Dan Sundstrom: I was introduced to brewing by a high school buddy in Bend, Oregon. He gave me a recipe and it came out well. Friends liked it and asked for more, and I was really enjoying the process. After several years, I started entering local and regional competitions and reached a good level of success, which encouraged me to continue. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we made all the beer for my daughter, Emma’s, wedding. The day after, we received phone calls from two separate restaurateurs asking how they could get our beers in their restaurants. At that point, our dreams felt like they could become reality. On the heels of the wedding, we won back to back to back first places in the Orange County Fair, Los Angeles County Fair, and Pacific Brewers Cup in two divisions and a best of show.
Jesse Sundstrom: My first brew day was quite eventful. After my dad brought up the idea of homebrewing, we tried it in the kitchen, as I am sure most homebrewers have done before. However, we were not prepared. When transferring to the counterflow chiller, the silicon hose slipped off and started spraying near-boiling wort all over the room. I grabbed the hose and held it in place with wort still leaking out. Dad was yelling at me, “Don’t let go! Whatever you do, don’t let go!” (Thanks for that, Dad — my hand hurt so bad!) The beer was terrible but I could not have had a better time. From then on, I couldn’t get enough.
Can you tell us the story behind the Ten Mile name and how it relates to how you name your beers?
Dan: Our family has always been outdoorsy. When the kids were younger, we hiked often and had set a goal of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. So far, we’ve accomplished about 700 miles. We’ve always had a cabin up in the Sierras at Hume Lake, and the main tributary of Hume is Ten Mile Creek. Ten Mile became the “go-to” place for our family, and we have many fond memories of days spent by the creek, playing and swimming in its waterfalls. The name was so important to us that we had to legally secure the name from a wine conglomerate that already owned it; we just had to agree to not get into the wine business in order to secure the name.
Jesse: Our family has had a cabin up there for five generations. Our naming process typically falls into a few categories: music, movies, nature, and locations, all of which are special memories to our family.
Dan: We started naming our beers based on outdoor themes. Trail Marker, Bearskin, Flume Ride, etc. These quickly ran out as we now have well over 60 unique beers! All our names do have a story, though.
Your whole operation is family-run and everyone always seems so happy when I stop in. What are the best and most difficult parts of working in the beer industry with relatives?
Jesse: Our relationship really suffered for a long time, and it was homebrewing that brought my dad and I together. The best part is getting to kind of make up for that lost time. The difficulties are more based in remembering that he is a business partner as well as my father. The reality is that this is an effort put forth by the whole family. Everyone has their roles and without them, this business honestly could not function.
Dan: In all honesty, working with family can be tough! Arguments arise, feelings get hurt. Sometimes my “old” way of doing things doesn’t sit well with the younger generation. I get it! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. We still have regular family meals together where we cook, drink beer, wine and whiskey, and discuss the business and where it’s going, and laugh until our sides ache. I am proud to be part of the many father-son teams who are brewing out there today. An early inspiration was Eagle Rock Brewing, where Jeremy Raub and his father Steve teamed up.
What is your favorite Ten Mile beer to personally drink?
Jesse: It mostly depends on my mood, but for the sake of choosing one, Hidden Hollow. You literally can never go wrong with that one. Resurrecting a forgotten style that breeds conversation and community, what could be better?
Dan: I’m a hop head and have always been! I’ll always gravitate towards a hoppy beer. Over the years, though, my tastes have mellowed, and I find myself reaching for the malty side. If I’m not having a Double IPA, you’ll find me drinking our Dark Czech Lager or Hidden Hollow Kentucky Common. Hidden Hollow is truly an all-American beer born in this country as the westward pioneer movement was at its peak, made with all-American ingredients from things available here back in the day. Wilderness, adventure, new experiences are all things this beer conjures up and we at Ten Mile love.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about owning a brewery or simply being in the beer industry now that Ten Mile is turning three this year?
Dan: I’d have to say that the biggest is also the one that surprises me the most; for a brewery our size, it’s literally our presence. Our customers want to see us involved in every aspect of the brewery. For the first few months after we opened, we were on the edge of burnout but still loving it every day, though it took quite a toll on our family. We started hiring a few employees to give us a night off, and it wasn’t long before we started hearing, “Hey, I didn’t see you here the other night, “ or “We missed you the other day,” and it came with a note of detriment. When we started [our second location in Bellflower at] SteelCraft, we were away a lot building out. I started hearing a lot from our employees about how customers were disappointed we weren’t around much anymore. I could see it hurting the business as well. Presence is key, at least in our model. After SteelCraft finished up and we could get back to regular hours in Signal Hill, I could see and hear how much our customers appreciated having our faces behind the bar or at their table. Now, we try to always have a family member around when we’re open. Also, we vet our potential employees to make sure they “feel” like family when we’re not there. I think it shows! They do a great job. It’s something you don’t think about when starting up — I just wanted to make great beer!
Jesse: There is no industry that is more welcoming and collaborative than the brewing industry. Even before we opened, we had brewers that we never met contact us just to wish us luck and offer their help in anything we might need. It’s the most unique environment you could imagine working in.
How has the LBC community rallied around you during this coronavirus outbreak?
Dan: When COVID-19 hit, it was like it came overnight! We had to lay off 11 employees and we felt terrible. Not to mention, we weren’t sure if we could even support staying open. The Signal Hill and Long Beach communities blew our socks off with support — and thank God we had a good supply of crowlers just ordered! The community really came through.
Jesse: Right off the bat when we announced we would be closing the tasting room and starting to-go orders, people flooded in to make sure that we were going to remain in business. Even our employees gave encouragement to us during the lay-offs because they just wanted to make sure that they would have a job and business they love to come back to.
Dan: We are now several weeks in and have, of course, seen a drop off as it’s starting to hit people a bit harder. I’m hearing this from all the local breweries. We are grateful and thankful for the support our community has given us, and we can’t wait to have the taproom filled and see all your smiling faces again!