Nicki Sener and Yancy Hammond-Graf from Ten Eyck Brewing Company
What happens when a group of incredible, hard-working veterans and first responders come together over a love of craft beer? You get the supportive and bad-ass founders of Ten Eyck Brewing Company. Ten Eyck, an old family name with deep roots in the East coast, roughly translates to “at the oak tree.” The oak tree …
What happens when a group of incredible, hard-working veterans and first responders come together over a love of craft beer? You get the supportive and bad-ass founders of Ten Eyck Brewing Company.
Ten Eyck, an old family name with deep roots in the East coast, roughly translates to “at the oak tree.” The oak tree is a symbol of strength, morale, resistance, and knowledge—qualities that are abundant at Ten Eyck Brewing Company. One of the first breweries in Queen Anne’s County of Maryland, their community is unmatched (despite opening their doors during the pandemic).
We sat down with two of the founding partners of Ten Eyck Brewing, Yancy Hammond-Graf and Nicki Sener, to learn all about Ten Eyck Brewing. And by the end of this interview, you’ll want to get in your car and drive to the eastern shore of Maryland for a visit to enjoy a delicious beverage with a fresh sourdough pretzel. Read on to learn more about this wonderful family.
Tell us about yourselves and your role at Ten Eyck.
Nicki: I’m one of the owners here at Ten Eyck Brewery. I’m the one that’s here every day, managing things and putting out fires. I started as the brewer but we just hired a head brewer, the incredibly talented Ingrid Robinson, who’s been turning out some amazing beers for us. Now I focus on writing the checks and paying the bills and all the fun stuff. I have some wonderful partners who have helped out tremendously to get us open. I’ll pass it off to Yancy, she is one of those partners.
Yancy: I didn’t have a job when we started this project, I had just gotten out of an MBA program. I would just show up at the brewery and ask Nicki what needs to happen. She would say, “What doesn’t need to happen? Look in one direction, something needs attention there.”
In those first few months, I don’t even know how to define it… other than a little bit of chaos with a beer at the end of the day; and not just any beer but our own beer. That’s some really cool stuff.
Since those early days of reacting, Nicki in particular has gotten us in a place where we’re more proactive. We have a strategy around social media and getting our beer out there.
To back up a bit, can one of you tell me about your journey into craft beer. What led you here?
Nicki: As a former beer tourist—and hopefully still one day can go on vacations again—I’ve been to a lot of breweries. I was traveling all over for my job when I decided I needed to find a way to open a business near home on our Eastern Shore of Maryland. Like every other person who has homebrewed, I thought, “I could do this, I could open a brewery.” When my friends and partner said they wanted to do it with me I knew we had to make a decision.
We went for it.
This is a new construction brewery so it took us a really long time to open. We have a really good location; 4 million cars come by to go to the beach on the weekend in the summertime.
And it just seemed like a no-brainer. Beer. The brewing community is so fantastic and supportive of one another and so unlike most industries. I wanted to create a place that welcomed and included everyone. People are happy when they’re here!
Co-founders of Ten Eyck Brewing Company (left to right): Sharon Horgan, Shayne Sewell, Jennifer Barrett, Nicki Sener, Dr. Jessica Hammond-Graf, and Yancy Hammond-Graf..
You mentioned community. Tell us about the community of the ownership of Ten Eyck.
Nicki: I guess we all really know each other from rugby.
Yancy: That’s the common denominator for sure.
Nicki: I didn’t play rugby, no way in hell! But my partner is a former rugby player.
Yancy: My wife, Dr. Jessica Hammond-Graf (she just got her EdD.) coached rugby in the Navy with Renee, Nicki’s partner. My wife and I were teammates in some circles and opponents in others.
Nicki: Two of the partners, they’re both retired Air Force pilots, one played rugby at the Air Force Academy and that’s how they met Renee, Jessica, and the other partners. Rugby is a small world. Like the brewing community, most people know everybody. You’re never more than 2 degrees of separation.
And it sounds like you have a good military and first responder representation as well. Some cool backgrounds on your team.
Nicki: A lot of people who aren’t afraid of hard work which is great. That comes in handy.
What does Ten Eyck mean?
Nicki: Ten Eyck is my original family name on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. It’s Dutch and it roughly translated means at or under the oak tree. All of the Ten Eyck’s in the US come from Coenraedt Ten Eck who came to New York in the 1650s. He was my great great great, times 9, grandfather. We thought that name would be cool because it’s a family name and there’s a backstory to branch off of with the tree theme. I asked my father for permission and he said of course. I think he’s proud.
Speaking of Ten Eycks, I’ve gotten so many emails and messages over the past years from Ten Eyck’s reaching out. They’ve all bought swag and I’ve shipped t-shirts all over the world to various Ten Eycks. Super cool!
Walk me through the experience of walking into the taproom.
Yancy: It’s absolutely beautiful! Some of the major fixtures that you expect in the taproom like the tables and the bar are framed with oak. And not just any oak, local red oak. The bar is stretched out from the same slab of oak.
Image courtesy of Ten Eyck Brewing Company
Nicki: It’s an oak tree from a camp I went to as a kid, Camp Wright. The company that built this bar also built the slab tables. It’s the very first tree he took in so it’s a special thing for him too.
Everything has stories, I love it!
Yancy: And local too. It all ties to local individuals and organizations. That’s one thing we strive for.
How else do you connect with the local community?
Yancy: We’ve partnered with a young lady who owns a bakery.
Nicki: It’s called Rise, they have a sourdough bread bakery but it’s real sourdough, not the kind you find at the grocery store. They had a hard time getting the correct licensing because the health department is like, “wild yeast, that sounds awful!” We partnered with them to serve fresh-baked sourdough pretzels with fermented mustard made with our beer.
We’re partnering with a local produce stand that just got their liquor license to sell beer to-go. We’re making hard seltzers using their produce and put their logo on the label. Then they sell the seltzer at their produce stand.
We’re also a pickup point for the customers of those businesses to pick up sourdough and produce CSA once a week.
We just want to support as many local businesses as we can because why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t you want to help each other out? We can only help each other.
What kind of events do you do in your taproom to invite people in?
Nicki: We haven’t really yet. We have done some cupcake and beer pairings. We did a chocolate truffle and beer pairing was a huge hit so we’re going to do that again.
We haven’t been able to do much because of COVID but I think more food and beer pairings are the way to go. People really like those.
Yancy: They’ve proven to be successful.
When it comes to your employees, tell me about what makes your team awesome.
Yancy: We’ve hired well. Very well. A lot of that is to Nicki’s credit.
Nicki: Everybody who works here really wanted to work here, even before we were open. Most of our taproom employees are part-time because they have other careers. They’re hard workers and they want to be a part of what we’re creating here with the community and the people we serve.
It’s new. All of this is new for us so we’re kind of making things up. One day we’re coming up with solutions to things we didn’t anticipate but that’s all part of running a business.
Can you talk about how you educate your staff and guests?
Nicki: People come in and ask what we have that tastes like X (insert name of macro beer here). We have a couple of lagers on tap, that’s kinda where the staff steers them. When you hold the pilsner up you could read a book through it; it’s clear, it’s crisp, it’s refreshing and delicious. People love it.
You know the classic response is, “I thought craft beer was hoppy.” The staff has been great about telling people craft does not mean hoppy, craft means it’s small-batch beer, produced locally, using real, locally, and regionally sourced ingredients.
Image courtesy of Ten Eyck Brewing Company
Tell me about the beer. What do you focus on and what’s your favorite thing on tap?
Yancy: Wolf Tree, I can answer that question easily.
Nicki: My favorite on tap right now is our Wolf Tree IPA as well. It’s a hazy IPA, it’s a 6.25% abv. It has azacca, ekuanot and citra hops. It’s citrusy but it’s more pithy citrusy and it’s, mmmm, yum. It’s so good. We have a pretty wide variety of beers on tap. We have a hefeweizen, we have a farmhouse saison, we’ve got a sour with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. We have a stout. We have 13 beers on tap, a hard seltzer, and a cider.
I don’t know if you can see behind me, we have two oak foeders. One of the foeders is going to be for wild fermentation. We’ve got a saison in one right now that we used fresh peaches from the local orchard. It’s already really good.
The other foeders are clean foeders. We’ve already put a couple of stouts through and now we have a couple of lagers that were fermented solely 100% in the foeders and they are just absolutely delicious. And that was my dream, to have as many foeder beers as possible. There is just something about them that is so smooth and has more character than stainless. And they’re pretty to look at.
You opened during COVID?
Nicki: August 7th, 2020
Obviously, all your plans changed but can you talk to me about how you pivoted to get through the year?
Nicki: We have a lot more employees than we anticipated. We hired more servers so we can provide table service because we don’t have the room to have people milling about the bar waiting for a beer. The result is that people rave about our service. People post reviews or email me and talk about how much they love the beer but the first thing they say is how much they love our staff. Because we are so heavily staffed, our guests get amazing service with personal beer recommendations.
And when all this is over, this actually came up during the OpenTab webinar, are we going to be able to go back? How could we possibly go back to bar service and not have that personalization?
We also pivoted by putting more beer into cans. I bought a two-head can seamer because I thought it would be good to have cans to go and now because of COVID it’s been our workhorse. We are utilizing a mobile canner when we have a bunch of beers ready to can in the same day but we use the little two head canner for smaller batches and it’s definitely paid for itself already.
The million-dollar question: if you had unlimited resources, what would you love to do?
Yancy: More foeders.
The two oak foeders you can find at Ten Eyck Brewing.
From where you sit, where do you see the craft beverage industry going in the next few years? Change, evolve?
Nicki: That’s a really good question. I wish I knew.
Say what you want about hazy IPAs, fruited kettle sours, and hard seltzers, but they’re bringing in more customers. They’re bringing people in from macros if you want to call a hard seltzer a beer. You can’t write that off as fluffer, you got to make money.
Yancy: And I would add from the business perspective, traveling by flight is still going to be a little weird and limited to a certain degree so I see more folks heading across the country in their car. Located where we are, we’re definitely going to see that traffic, assuming my vision is correct.
Nicki: We are at the longest traffic light in the state of Maryland in the summertime. 8.5 minutes!
Yancy: No joke!
I wanted to wrap up by giving you an opportunity to tell people why they should come to Ten Eyck Brewing Company?
Nicki: I think we have the most beautiful taproom in the state. It’s a testament to a community of craftsmen and contractors coming in here and building something together. Definitely come for the beer but to see people’s faces when they walk in the door, even if they’ve seen pictures online, their faces show how taken back they are. I know I’m biased but this is what people have told me! Come and visit us because of who we are as owners, and the folks we hired. We’re a family. And we have great beer!
Yancy: We have built a team that’s meeting the needs of the community. And that extends to educating them on craft beer. To Nicki’s point earlier, we have a bigger staff than we originally imagined but it’s paying off, and not only is that benefitting us but that’s benefitting the industry.
It’s been an honor to partner with Ten Eyck Brewing Company. Learn more about how we can partner with your team to create a guest-centric experience.