Photo Credit: Frey Ranch Distillery

Longtime Nevadans take a lot of pride in their state and in the Silver State’s history, especially those who can trace their family back to the days of the pioneers. Such is the case of the Frey (pronounced fray) family, who trace their Nevada roots to Joseph Frey Sr., who acquired one of the original land claims filed in Nevada in 1854, 10 years before it became a state during the Civil War.

Over the years the family made its mark as farmers on their 560-acre farm located in Fallon (just outside Reno), which they still do today, but with an added twist. In 2001 Colby Frey and his father, Charles Frey Jr., planted a three-acre vineyard to produce a high value crop that consumed less water: wine. After the winemaking venture proved a success, and after experimenting with distilling the grains they grew on their farm, in 2010 Colby, his wife Ashley and Master Distiller Russell Wedlake applied for and received a federal commercial license, and Frey Ranch Estate Distillery was born. Russell, like Colby, comes from an agricultural background and is one of only a handful of Certified Crop Consultants in the state of Nevada. He met Colby and Ashley through that experience and his 20+ years of experience and knowledge of seed, grains and agriculture made him the perfect collaborator to start a distillery that focused on controlling every aspect of the distilling process, which they refer to as “From Ground to Glass™.” 

 The husband and wife team and Master Distiller Russell Wedlake designed the operation and were involved in every aspect of construction of the 4,700-square-foot building just steps from the Frey home and after careful planning to create a state-of-the-art distillery, it began operation in 2014. The facilities include a one-of-a-kind, custom-made Vendome still that is capable of producing 10,000 cases of spirits a month, four 5,000-gallon fermenters, one 5,000-gallon mash cooker, one 5,000-gallon beer well, one 500-gallon pot still, a 23-foot vodka column, 24-foot continuous still, a malt house, still room, tank room, tasting room and barrel house.

After launching a complex, four-grain vodka in 2014, production on Frey Ranch Gin began soon after, and it won a quite prestigious Double Gold Medal in the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits competition. At the same time the team began aging a series of different premium distilled whiskeys, including bourbon and 100 percent rye whiskey. Now after a minimum of four years of aging in 53-gallon oak barrels, their efforts are coming to fruition, as this month the first of those aged spirits is hitting the Las Vegas market: Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

In anticipation of this momentous release, we chatted with Ashley, Colby, Russell and VP of Marketing Mike Price, to find out what sets their whiskey apart from others and how Frey Ranch Distillery is raising the bar for premium whiskey.

Is this bourbon start to finish yours?

Colby: Yes, and that’s the whole idea. All of the grains in the whiskey—the wheat, rye, barley and corn that it’s distilled from—are all grown here on the farm. Not only do we produce it, but we malt the barley and ferment all the grains.

Ashley: It’s a level deeper than just growing the grains: not only selecting the grains for the best quality, but how we grow them.

Russell: There are things you can do to improve the quality of the grain that ends up in less yield of the grain but better quality. So that’s something we do all the way through the whole process: We sacrifice quantity for quality. One of the benefits we have here by having irrigation systems, as opposed to the Midwest where most of the commodity grains are grown, is we can put the water on exactly when the plant needs it most. On the bottle it says distilled from four slow grown grains, which means we don’t rush the growing process, and want the grains to grow slower to produce better quality.

Colby: We can control our soil, water applications, fertilizer and nutrient management, the way we harvest it and the way we store the grain; all are done in the right way, the best way, not the easy way. 

What does your trademark “From Ground to Glass” represent?

Colby: We have total control of our product. When someone comes to our tasting room and takes a bottle home, none of the ingredients have left our possession until you take it home.

Ashley: We always think the better the input—the quality of the grain—the better the output: a pure, cleaner bourbon.

Mike: Very, very few distillers are doing this and often those calling themselves farm distilleries are only growing one grain onsite, whereas we grow 100% of the grains in the bourbon and even malt our own barley. Every aspect of what we do is to get the best quality, not the easy way or to save money, but to focus on quality.

How much was produced for this first run?

Russell: The first year, five years ago, we produced about 180 barrels (4,000 cases), which are now being released. Now we’re producing 55 barrels a week, so in each month we’re now equaling about what we did the entire first year.

Colby: Each year we have increased and last year we produced about 65,000 cases, but keep in mind it won’t be available until four years from now.

How was the bottle label/packaging determined? 

Ashley: We wanted a bottle and label that are a modern take on farming and distilling. We have a new approach, doing everything onsite. There are really fun hidden messages on the bottle and the label has Farmers + Distillers and our motto: “Be good to the land and the land will be good to you.”

What is the meaning of your motto?

Colby: As farmers we have to take care of our land, our ground, our farm and our environment, so we can do business next year and have something for our future. Since 1854 my family has been farming in Nevada and we are really fortunate that they’ve taken care of our land, so we have a really good farm now, and we want to do same for our kids.

I’m assuming since it’s a bourbon it’s at least 51% corn and aged in a new oak barrel. What other ingredients are in it?

Colby: The breakdown is 66% non-GMO corn, 11.4% winter rye, 10% winter wheat and 12% two-row malted barley, which is malted here onsite. Mash bills are normally a secret, but there is no way for anyone to copy what we are doing because of how many factors there are in growing the grains. We dare someone to try to make what we are doing. What sets us apart, is we grow for distilling purposes. On the open market, you can’t count on it being the best quality, and the commodity grain market is not always best. You can’t make good wine out of bad grapes, and it’s the same for whiskey.

What proof is it?

Russell: It’s 90 Proof Straight. Straight is a legal definition in bourbon and means it’s aged a minimum of two years, but ours is actually aged closer to five years.

How about the barrels being used?

Colby: We use all new oak barrels. The staves (body) have a heavy four-char and the heads (top and bottom ends) a three-char, which give it a little different flavor profile, so we capture the flavors of both char types.

How long was it aged in the barrel?

Colby: It’s a blend of four and five-year. We blended a lot of barrels to get our current whiskey and did a lot of tasting. It was a tough job. :)

What is the release date?

Mike: It was released in Reno in November and in Las Vegas it will be released on February 4 through Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. It might be on store shelves less than a week after that. For Northern California we are looking at mid-2020. As stocks grow and the whiskeys mature and we have enough, we will launch in other states. We anticipate being nationwide in a couple years.

What is being done to familiarize potential buyers about the new bourbon?

Colby: Being in this issue of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional!

Mike: We’ve got a robust marketing plan, including public relation activities, trade events and consumer events. We’ll be doing tastings all over the Las Vegas market and will be involved in just about every major whiskey event in the state, including the Nth Ultimate Whiskey Experience at the Wynn. 

What is in the future for your bourbon and whiskey line?

Colby: Rye is in the works, and lots of other specialty stuff is coming. Whiskeys aging now include an oated bourbon, 100% corn, 100% wheat, single malts, quad-malted bourbon and a scotch-style with smoked, peated malt. But those are in really
small quantities. 

Ashley: The bourbon is our flagship product and 80% of production is currently bourbon and rye is 15%. We will have some innovative products in the future, in small quantities, about six months from now. 

Frey Ranch is distributed in Nevada by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. To read more about Frey Ranch, its products and where to purchase them, visit www.freyranch.com.