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Hollerhorn Distilling has a spirited relaunch

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Co-owners Karl and Melissa Neubauer are celebrating the first five years of Hollerhorn Distilling, having endured both the pandemic and a devastating fire in 2022. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Co-owners Karl and Melissa Neubauer are celebrating the first five years of Hollerhorn Distilling, having endured both the pandemic and a devastating fire in 2022.
At 2 a.m. on May 12, 2022, Karl and Melissa Neubauer of Hollerhorn Distilling in Naples awoke to a business owner’s worst nightmare. Their facility, which they opened four years prior, was on fire. After several hours passed and 15 different fire departments responded to the scene, the flames were extinguished but the damage was done.

Hollerhorn’s tasting room, bar, and dining area — as well as 500 barrels of liquor — were destroyed in the fire, likely caused by an electrical shortage in a prep area that housed six coolers and freezers on the first floor of the facility.

Melissa, who oversees Hollerhorn’s cuisine and interior design, says the initial feeling was one of desperation. “Immediately it felt kind of insurmountable. How do you start over?” she said. “But the community was so amazing. You start realizing how much this space meant to people here in Naples.”
The Remedy Room has served as the temporary tasting room during Hollerhorn's rebuild. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Remedy Room has served as the temporary tasting room during Hollerhorn's rebuild.
With the help of a GoFundMe campaign that raised $56,480, Hollerhorn was up and running again in less than a year, albeit in a smaller, temporary tasting room dubbed ‘The Remedy Room.’ By this June, the Neubauers were starting to host concerts on the distillery’s outdoor stage again.
Hollerhorn's head distiller Karl Neubauer pours a spirit from the distillery's Phoenix series. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Hollerhorn's head distiller Karl Neubauer pours a spirit from the distillery's Phoenix series.
Hollerhorn celebrates its five-year anniversary on September 8 with a show featuring Karl’s Americana band The Prickers, as well as the release of a new single-malt whiskey for the occasion. The distillery’s grand reopening — featuring a new, larger tasting room, a revamped mezzanine area to better accommodate private parties, and new roofs covering second-floor decks — is planned for the end of the month, just in time for the Naples Grape Festival. The Remedy Room will be used to host tastings and private events.

Last year’s distillery fire didn’t only necessitate a new look for Hollerhorn, but new tastes as well. Karl, who is head distiller, created Hollerhorn’s “Phoenix” series with whiskey from barrels that survived the fire. He said the heat from the fire artificially accelerated the aging process, resulting in a more mature-tasting whiskey. “All that heat pushing to the barrel pushed that spirit into the wood,” he said.

A totem, including whiskey barrels blackened by the 2022 fire, welcomes visitors to the distillery. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • A totem, including whiskey barrels blackened by the 2022 fire, welcomes visitors to the distillery.
In addition to his signature single-malt whiskeys — using only malted barley, yeast, and water sourced locally and processed at Hollherorn — Karl takes special pride in his maple spirits like “Old Growth.” With only maple syrup, yeast, and water, he sees the craft liquor as a regional answer to rum and tequila.

Remnants of the fire can still be seen before entering the distillery. A few of the barrels exposed to the flames now form a totem that greets patrons as they make their way up the driveway to the property. Next to the totem is a phoenix bench by Rochester metal sculptor Stacey Mrva.



Although the physical manifestations of Hollerhorn’s rebirth are all over the property, one of the biggest resets was an emotional one. In some ways, the fire prevented the Neubauers from burning out.

Karl, who has worked at the distillery seven days a week since it first opened five years ago, said being bogged down in work can obscure what’s really important. “It allowed us to step back and say, ‘Alright, for our own health, how do we acknowledge all of that and support that, but also, how do we feed ourselves?’” he said. “‘And how do we, when we, come back, put ourselves more firmly in the center of that community in an active way?’”
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For the Neubauers, the answer lies in engaging with their customers to better understand their experience, particularly during special events such as concerts. If that engagement means the owners get to revel in their successes in the process, then that’s added honey to the barrel.

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].

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