By Karl Neubauer
In thinking about this cocktail, I couldn’t help but think of the generations of grape growers, farmers, vintners and, of course, pioneering winemakers who have helped shape the Finger Lakes region. The list is much too long to share here, but when I was searching out the “Champagne” element for this cocktail riff, I felt the legacy left by Dr. Konstantin Frank was worth paying tribute to.
Dr. Frank immigrated to New York in 1951, at the age of 52, and he brought decades of experience managing vineyards in eastern Europe, a keen understanding of vinifera grapes and a passion for exploration. That knowledge and experience would help guide him in establishing those Old World varieties here in western New York, and make it possible to produce cool-climate wines, which are the backbone of exceptional sparkling wine.
One of things I enjoy most about cocktail culture is the history and backstory, which can add so much to the experience of making and imbibing. When digging into a new cocktail, or a new take on an old cocktail, it is always good to know where it fits in that history and lineage. The French 75 has such a bizarre origin and—like so many Prohibition-era cocktails—one that is difficult to fully detangle and pin down. The French 75 cocktail was likely named many years after its invention and first appeared in print in 1927. Its namesake French 75 was a deadly military weapon capable of firing 15,000 projectiles (75mm) per minute, essentially making it impossible for the enemy to advance across an open field. It was later repurposed for firing gas canisters, so it would seem the dark humor of post-WWI referred to the idea that this cocktail really packed a punch.
For this take on a classic I wanted to skew toward a very local feel, and wanted to highlight some of this region’s most iconic farmed products. I grew up in Naples, NY; went to countless Naples Grape Festivals; was raised by a winemaker and grape farmer who also pressed apples in the fall and lived in a town that had one of this region’s most historic wineries (Widmer Winery), all of which influenced me in deciding on the elements. Selfishly, I also felt the gin and apple brandy made right here at Hollerhorn Distilling fit perfectly as well, because Neapolitans like to think we are the heart of the Finger Lakes.
Karl Neubauer is owner, head distiller and mixologist at Hollerhorn Distilling in Naples, NY. Hollerhorn is a farm distillery, farm-to-table restaurant, cocktail bar and event space in the heart of the Finger Lakes region.