Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy links towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
In and around Fallon, Nevada, the Frey family’s farming history dates back over 165 years. The ranch where the family grows grains was established in 1944. It seems only natural that they became one of the first Nevadan whiskey growers and distillers in the post-Prohibition era. But the family’s first foray into alcohol began with a winery.
In 2001, concerned about water usage and the limited value of the cattle feed he grew, Charlie Frey planted grapevines and built Churchill Vineyards on the property. Charlie’s son Colby wanted to add value to the family’s grain production, too. In 2006, Colby and his wife Ashley founded the Frey Ranch Distillery on the family’s 1,500-acre farm. They transitioned parts of the winery into a whiskey-making operation, converting the brandy-making operation into a grain distillery. Nevada licensed the operation under transitional laws that permitted them to produce but neither sell nor sample their products until 2010.
Now blessed by the state, the family has expanded their production capacity, converting the winery building into a bottling room and a former milking parlor into the distillery’s offices. While the whiskey aged, they began producing vodka, gin, and, on a dare, absinthe.
The focus since its conception was to use exclusively estate-grown products. The distillery is an “estate” distillery under Nevada law, which “is defined as a distillery that grows at least 85 percent of the raw materials used in its products on its own land,” per the Fallon Post. Everything occurs on site, from growing the grains, to malting, milling, distillation, and aging. Though some botanicals are sourced for the gin and absinthe, Colby experiments with the on-property options including using sagebrush as an aromatic addition.
Since most malting operations work in quantities ten times or larger than his, Colby uses a custom-built steep tank and germination/kilning drum. He’s very passionate about the malting, which he thinks results in more complete flavors and higher quality to the finished product. He also derides the use of commercial enzymes to hasten the process.
Frey Ranch not too long ago released two new 100% malted grain bourbons using all estate grains. These whiskeys are only available for purchase at the distillery tasting room in newly redesigned, 375ml bottles. I don’t love the heavy brass stoppers, which were oxidized in my review samples near the synthetic cork where the metal comes in contact with the whiskey.
The Frey Ranch Quad Malt Bourbon uses the same mash bill as their flagship four-grain straight bourbon whiskey and was aged for 70 months. The grain is non-GMO corn, winter rye – which was drought-stressed to add spiciness – winter wheat, and two-row barley. The Frey Ranch 100% Malted Corn Bourbon used heat during the germination process, which, according to Frey, is necessary for corn.
Tasting Notes: Frey Ranch Quad Malt Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged for five years and 10 months in new, charred oak barrels, 45% ABV, mash bill: non-GMO corn, winter rye, winter wheat, and two-row barley, SRP $59/ 375ml bottle.
Appearance: This is deep golden orange in color with a brown undertone.
Nose: This opens up with notes of spicy cologne, bananas, and kiwi peels. It’s musty and musky in a good way. I pick up notes of old suede and red embers that evokes a warm log cabin on a cold winter’s day.
Palate: On the palate, it feels a touch youthful and unfinished, with notes of green bananas, pencil eraser, and bread dough. It’s creamy and rich in body with a moderate fieriness and almost no tannins until the finish. It feels moderate in complexity with notes of worn leather, dried figs, and baking spices. This is not a sweet or cloying dram, which I find refreshing. This is one to sip.
Tasting Notes: Frey Ranch 100% Malted Corn Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged for five years and 10 months in new, charred oak barrels, 55% ABV, mash bill: 100% malted corn, SRP $59/ 375ml bottle.
Appearance: This is pale golden brown with a yellow undertone.
Nose: This is very aromatic with notes of brown bread toast, sourdough bread, and buttery caramel. I pick up notes of sawdust and chocolate covered cherries. There’s an odd metallic undertone here like rotten lettuce greens that was a touch unpleasant. There’s a lot going on with each sniff.
Palate: I pick up the strange note on the palate, but beyond that, there are touches of chocolate covered cherries, Cheerios, and freshly raked autumn leaves. It has a very bold corn sweetness that balanced with the moderate tannins. It’s silky but with perceptibly high alcohol. The finish reminds me of chocolate sauce and pu-erh, a fermented black tea, but it concludes with the off flavor.
There’s a lot of potential here. I do love a good family-farmed bottle, whether whiskey, wine, or something else. Unfortunately, the off flavor in the Frey Ranch 100% Malted Corn Bourbon proved overwhelming. I had hoped that this note would blow off, but it was still present after checking in about a week after my initial tasting.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...