To be a distiller, one needs patience. After all, it can take years to see the fruits of your labor. For married couple Colby and Ashley Frey of Nevada’s Frey Ranch, their first bourbon whiskey was five years in the making. Frey Ranch’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Batch No. 1, distilled from four slow-grown grains, debuted in Southern Nevada earlier this year.
But the story of Frey Ranch actually goes back 165 years, even before Nevada was a state. The Frey family has been working this fertile 1,500-acre piece of land since 1854. Colby, a fifth-generation farmer, takes his role as steward of his family’s land seriously. All he’s ever wanted to be was a farmer; the distilling came later, ushering the family legacy into a new era.
“We’ve always grown wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, alfalfa, hay and things like that, so we knew how to grow really high-quality grains. That’s why it was just a natural for us to make bourbon, which has wheat, rye, barley and corn,” Colby says. “My family has passed on from generation to generation different techniques on how to make extremely good-quality grains.
“Anywhere you go in the world—different ingredients, different climates, different soils, anything—farms have to be run differently. So we have 165 years on how to grow crops the best way in our particular climate, soil and everything else. If we went to Kentucky and we tried to do the exact same things that we do here, we would probably fail miserably. That’s why that knowledge is really important.”
Where to buy
Frey Ranch bourbon is available at several Valley restaurants, including Scotch 80 Prime at the Palms, Zuma at the Cosmopolitan, El Dorado Cantina at Tivoli Village and Oak & Ivy at Downtown Container Park. It can also be purchased at Lee's Liquor, Liquor World and Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits.
That intimate knowledge of the land informs everything about how the Freys operate. Their location—Fallon, a town of 8,600 located some 60 miles east of Reno, which locals call “the oasis of Nevada”—is its biggest key. The water there comes from both sides of Lake Tahoe, and from the Carson and Truckee rivers. The Freys flood-irrigate the fields, a system that takes advantage of gravity and actually produces electricity, rather than using electricity through the use of pumps, more common for Nevada farms. That allows the Freys to control the water that gets to the seeds. Flood irrigation goes underneath the plant, helping to avoid mold or mildew, and the yield is consistent from year to year, regardless of the amount of rain.
Everything that goes into Frey bourbon is grown on-site. Having control of the ingredients—down to malting the barley, which helps with the fermentation process—is paramount for quality control. “When you take a bottle home, it has never left our possession,” Colby says. “We know 100 percent of what’s gone on in the production process.”
And while the Freys have just now sent their first batch—distilled in 2015—to market, they’ve been at the craft far longer. Distillery laws in Nevada were passed in 2013, but Colby and Ashley got their federal experimental license in 2006, which gave them seven years to work out their recipes and have their one-of-a-kind still built by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. By 2014, they were up and running, and in their first year, they distilled 4,800 cases (at 12 bottles a case); last year, they produced 65,000 cases.
“I would say we’re definitely the pioneer in distilling in Nevada, because we’ve been carrying our license for such a long time and experimenting, and growing the grains and innovating well before anybody else,” Ashley says.
All that work is now here, liquid gold poured from a stunning bottle whose label tells the story of Frey Ranch, from its establishment in 1864 to its present identity: Farmers + Distillers. The ranch’s logo is embossed on the bottle, with a message from Colby: “Every time I step onto this land, I can feel the generations before me.” Tip the bottle and there’s another message, the credo by which generations of Freys have lived: “Be good to the land and the land will be good to you.”
• 1 1/2 oz. Frey Ranch Bourbon
• 1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
• 3 oz. Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale
• 2 dashes aromatic bitters
Method: Blend all ingredients over ice in a double Old Fashioned glass. Stir and garnish with orange slice.
• 1 1/2 oz. Frey Ranch Bourbon
• 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 oz. honey syrup (2:1)
• 1 dash Australian aromatic bitters
Method: Blend all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass garnished with fresh lemon peel.