Brewing to Break the Taproom Ceiling
By Gabrielle Reagan | Photography by Steven J. Pallone
Tucked away in the basement of what used to be a Baptist church in Manlius, farm brewery Seneca Street Brew Pub pours patrons clean, crisp craft beer. At the helm, brewer Brooke Menikheim and her wife, Heidi, are shattering the taproom ceiling.
“It has been a man’s game for a long time, but I’m noticing a lot more women getting involved,” Heidi said. “Sure, I have to lift a 50-pound bag of grain or carry a keg, but women can do that, no problem at all.”
Before opening the pub in 2016, Brooke’s parents, Bob and Joyce Menikheim, operated a small street-level shop catering to bird owners. Then, the New York state farm brewery law was passed, requiring New York brewers to produce beer made primarily from locally-grown farm products. Bob swapped seed for grain and began planting hops. Before long, the Menikheims got in on the endgame: beer.
Complete with an onsite brewing system, bottle shop, event room and outdoor patio, Seneca Street Brew Pub features rotating house taps and guest taps, as well as cider, wine and spirits, all produced within New York state.
With the number of local hops growers, barley-malting facilities and breweries in the state steadily increasing, the industry’s diversification has elevated a beer aficionado’s palate to that of a sommelier. While studying at Siebel Institute of Technology’s World Brewing Academy in Chicago, Brooke — Seneca Street Brew Pub’s head brewmaster — quickly learned the technical side of brewing.
“When I started this, I said I wanted to be the Walter White of beer making,” Brooke joked. “I love the chemistry of it. I am very serious about it. I find it cathartic.”
Brooke’s enjoyment of the process is key, considering the time commitment and physical labor required in beer production. Once Brooke wets the grain, she has between nine and 12 hours of work ahead of her. Heidi assists and oversees the service side of operations, with the help of her mother-in-law, Joyce. The Menikheim family also owns Erie Canal Brewing Company, a small craft brewery in Canastota. So, from grain to glass, the three women run two breweries, six days a week.
“It was so hard the first few times; I wasn’t sure we could do this,” Brooke said. “But we did it. We get it done.”
Averaging 28 barrels per month, Brooke and Heidi produce about 14 kegs per week. In the first year of business, they won a gold medal in the amber and reds category of a New York state beer competition with their deep Irish Red Ale.
Another favorite is the Yellow Brick Blonde, created for and on tap at Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango. The Kolsch is another standout, embodying Brooke’s brewing philosophy: clean, crisp and uncomplicated. Find it on tap at locations around New York, including Pastabilities and World of Beer.
“A lot of other breweries are trying to come up with wildly different stuff and that’s great. I’m glad they’re doing it,” Brooke said. “But I want to make a beer that I can drink, that most people can drink — a beer you’re not afraid of trying.”
In addition to house drafts, Seneca Street Brew Pub features guest taps dedicated to New York state farm breweries. Local ciders, distilled spirits, wine and soda are available, as well as small plates. Along with supporting local purveyors, the Menikheim family hopes the pub can be a go-to destination in Manlius. They host a variety of events, including weekly trivia nights and, in warmer months, movie nights on the patio.
“When people come here, they feel like they’re coming to Cheers,” Heidi said with a smile. “You just get that good feeling.”
Interested in the brewing industry? Check out the Pink Boot Society, a national organization for women in the brewing industry. Or just grab a seat at your local craft pub, grab a pint and call it research. SWM
Seneca Street Brew Pub is located at 315 E. Seneca St. in Manlius. The pub is open 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, check out senecastreetpub.com or call (315) 682-6968.