SUMMERHILL — It started with hard cider, but that soon led to beer.
“We just had some fun brewing,” said Sallee TenEyck. “My husband’s always been interested in brewing beer.”
First her husband, Jeff, was into brewing hard cider, then he started a few batches of home brewed beer. The beer went over so well, he gradually began making more.
In September 2016, they started their first one-barrel microbrew in the garage of their house on 384 Champlin Road in Groton, and Summerhill Brewing was born. For three years, they steadily brewed about 20 gallons of beer a week, but that still wasn’t enough for their customers who quickly bought everything the TenEycks could brew.
This year, they went bigger, setting up a seven-barrel system and a 3,000-square-foot brewery and tasting house at 14408 Route 90, about five miles west of Homer, just over the Cayuga County line. They’re now cranking out 200 gallons a week.
This makes Summerhill Brewing one of more than 400 breweries founded in New York since 2012. It’s also one of two on the same stretch of road between Homer and Summerhill.
Homer Hops Brewing, at 700 Route 90, is the other. Homer Hops, which received its liquor license earlier this year, is still a one-barrel barn-based operation. But Monday, said co-owner Jason Kristof, the brewery will break ground on a 1,000-square-foot six- barrel brewery and 3,000-square-foot tasting room. He said the new site will open next spring.
The tasting house for Summerhill Brewing is already open for business Thursday through Sunday — its grand opening was Oct. 12. Its regular hours are now 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
It’s still a family operation — TenEyck and her husband, as well as their son Kurt McDonald and his wife, Megan — but they’ve also had to hire some part-time help.
Homer Hops is also mainly a family operation — Jason Kristof and his brothers Tony and Wally and their friends Shawn Potts and Steve Romer.
While the TenEycks grow some of their own hops, they don’t grow enough to feed the brewing operation. Most of hops they buy is locally sourced.
“We try to source locally as much as possible,” she said.
It’s also part of the state requirements for farm brewery licenses, which stipulate that 60 percent of the hops and other ingredients must come from New York farms. In 2024, that percentage will climb to 90 percent.
Homer Hops grows it own — four varieties of hops — but also buys from other farms in the state.
“We try to buy as much as possible from New York,” said Kristof, noting that Homer Hops already well surpasses the 60 percent minimum.
Summerhill Brewing also has a special arrangement with one of its source farms, Yorkshire Hill Farms in Lisle, where they send their spent grain to be used as livestock feed.
Ultimately, TenEyck wants to make Summerhill Brewery tasting room into a destination in itself, rather than just a place for beer drinkers to fill their growlers.
So far they’ve offered musical performances and even yoga classes, and they plan to have more events in the future. Homer Hops, said Kristof, also intends to offer music and community events.
But both brewers also want people to come and fill up their growlers. Both breweries sell by the growler and the keg but do not bottle their beers.
Summerhill Brewing’s most popular beers: Millard’s American Ale (named after Summerhill’s famous son, Millard Fillmore), Plato’s Haze IPA and Paper Money IPA and a chile pepper ale called Arriba.
It still uses a one-barrel system for brewing seasonal and experimental beers.
It has sold kegs to Treleaven Wines in King Ferry, Bright Leaf Vineyard in King Ferry, Chateau Dusseau in Locke and the Center for the Arts in Homer, although the beers are not currently on tap at those locations, she said.
The two most popular offerings of Homer Hops are Patsy’s Quest, a chocolate coconut porter, and Mother’s Day, a New England IPA, Kristof said.
Homer Hops, despite still being just a one-barrel operation, is already selling by the keg to BRU 64, Brix, Dasher’s, Central City Bar & Grill, the Center for the Arts, Woody’s Public House and Ithaca Coffee, he said.