“I like to call myself a whiskey farmer,” said Colby Frey during a tasting event at Sparrow + Wolf last July. “Our goal when we started the distillery was to showcase the grains that we grow on the farm.”
Frey Ranch Distillery (freyranch.com), which Colby Frey co-founded with his wife Ashley, is in Fallon, Nevada, about 80 minutes east of Reno. The ranch was founded in 1854, but the Freys only began distilling in 2006, and they hit the ground running. Until the Freys invited me—and a couple hundred other journalists, influencers and beverage industry folk—to that ranch in September for their annual “whiskey harvest” event, I confess that I didn’t yet have a full understanding of what “whiskey farming” meant.
One extensive tour and several exquisite tastes later, I was not only fully informed, but wholly converted. Spoiled, really. I may never touch another brand of whiskey again.
Frey Ranch, a 1,500-acre concern, is a small cluster of buildings—including the Frey family home—surrounded by vast fields of wheat, rye, barley and corn. Over the course of a day, we were given a full and thorough tour of the place, from the fields to barrel storage to the whiskey still itself, which Colby Frey assembled with his master distiller Russell Wedlake working only from a single photo.
(Wedlake joked that when they asked Vendome Copper & Brass Works for a bit more documentation, the manufacturer replied that if they needed more than that photo to assemble the still, then they shouldn’t have it at all. After some trial and error, they figured it out.)
The Freys employ a few proprietary techniques to make their bourbon, rye and single barrel whiskeys, many of which I’ve forgotten; I’m afraid that my recordings from that day are of low volume and that my notetaking, frequently interrupted by eager tastings, isn’t as clear as it should’ve been. But that’s okay, because everything you need to know about Frey Ranch’s spirits is contained in Colby Frey’s guiding principles—which he succinctly expresses as “from ground to glass”—and in the bottles themselves.
Frey Ranch’s flagship, a 90 proof, sustainably farmed straight bourbon whiskey, tastes as natural and unaffected as the place it was born. It offers a clean, smooth, multilayered taste—more so than many other premium whiskeys I’ve tried, and entirely above and apart from the as-seen-on-TV big brands. And it mixes beautifully with cocktails, which you can discover for yourself at Al Solito Posto, Anima by Edo, Bar Zazu, DW Bistro, the Golden Tiki, Sparrow + Wolf and dozens of other locations across the Valley, where Frey Ranch spirits are a backbar fixture.
Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to proceed directly to getting a bottle for your own home bar, or to giving one as a gift to someone who appreciates careful and diligent craft. The bottle itself is a piece of art, thanks to Ashley Frey’s branding and marketing savvy: It’s barrel-shaped, embossed with a medallion depicting the distillery barn and grain silo, and lists the latitude and longitude of the ranch. It’s in the heart of Nevada, where we know how to showcase the things we do best.
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