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Ashley and Colby Frey of Frey Ranch

What do you get when you put together a 160 year old farming tradition together with creative distilling? LIsten as I chat with Ashley and Colby Frey about their farm-to-glass four grain bourbon.

Listen to the Episode

Show Notes

Watch the interview on YouTube

Originally known as Frey Ranch Estate Distillery, this is one of a few distilleries in the world that source all of their grains from their own land. Think Kilchoman in Scotland or Waterford in Ireland.

Now, to a new distiller with a new farm, that might not be such an advantage, but imagine having a 160+ year history of farm/ranch ownership. Colby has a real advantage in the grain growing area of his business, but what about learning the distilling part?

Find out in this interview from Whiskey Lore. Other things we'll discuss:

  • The idea of a Nevada bourbon
  • The changing laws in Nevada
  • Grain to glass and the advantage of time
  • The process of creating a mashbill
  • How farming evolved with a distillery
  • How having a winery helped planning for a distillery
  • Similarities in agricultural and distilling education
  • 5 percent of production and 90 percent of the fun
  • Make your own custom blends
  • First deeded property in Nevada
  • The move of Frey Ranch to the Oasis of Nevada
  • Pulling trees with a Model A
  • The special challenges of farming in the High Desert
  • Ashley's passions around the distillery
  • The beautiful, heavy bottle
  • How Ashley and Colby met
  • What are the distillery tours like?
  • Dealing with aging and the temperatures in Nevada
  • Tasting the 90 Proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey (provided by Frey Ranch)
  • How they pick their cask strength single barrels
  • Is this a whiskey you should let sit?
  • The neck pour
  • How hard is rye to work with?
  • Naked oats, holeless oats, and other types of grains
  • When you didn't have a distillery, what did you do with your rye?
  • Doing on-site maltings
  • Making your own peat
  • Farmers + Distillers

Transcript

This is a rough machine generated translation. A clean translation should be available in the next week.

Ashley and Colby Frey you live in Fallon Nevada yes and I said and I said Nevada right yeah you did good job I know there's a stink about that I think I saw a video of Brian Williams from NBC News having to apologize during a primary or something because he he mispronounced Nevada he said Nevada and and got in trouble for that yeah it's funny there's a meme going around saying you know we were really slow on counting our votes in the last election and they said we're holding our votes until everybody pronounces Nevada right nice and then when I came to visit the last time I went to Genoa which is another name you have to kind of learn it took me probably a day or so before I finally stopped tripping up over that one and got it right because it looks like Genoa and was actually named after Genoa Italy but there's something about Nevadans that they want to have a unique pronunciation I think there you go yeah I don't know we're unique like that yeah so I want to talk a little bit about your your farm ranch as well as talking about the whiskey and also build this into the story that we're talking about with with Virginia City how far away are you guys from Virginia City you know we're probably about an hour drive you know they're a little bit towards the west from where we are okay and do you is that one of the you know first sort of test markets for you guys when you were I mean because you have a drinking culture there it's it's built on a history of saloons so you know how how did you get started when you when you started putting out your your whiskey were you kind of locally distributing or did you just jump straight to a national distributor so we have the opportunity and we're fortunate enough to have a cute little tasting room right on our property and we're open every Saturday from noon to four so we had a pretty significant following and built up clientele so when we did launch our bourbon we were able to really capture our northern Nevada I guess you could say like community and all of our fans that have have come out and visited us and questioned us when we were gonna launch our bourbon so as soon as we did people were really excited but it it primarily went to all all over northern Nevada first and then we expanded to southern Nevada and we're in 500 locations statewide currently yeah and didn't release our bourbon until december of 2019 and so you know relatively new and we're really fortunate because when we did release it it I mean we sold 10 times more than we thought we were going to at the you know during the release and had a great reception you know in Virginia City Reno Carson City you know all of the the areas here in northern Nevada yeah so is it was it difficult introducing a Nevada bourbon versus did did you sense anybody saying so what what's all this Nevada bourbon thing about I don't I don't think so I think from day one we wanted to do things the right way not the easy way and so our batch one of bourbon is a blend of 180 barrels aged 4.7 to 5.3 years so we didn't cut any corners and it can stand up to any straight bourbon whiskey on the market from Kentucky where they've been doing it for hundreds of years and we're really proud of that yeah it's a it's very interesting to see these distilleries that are going into non-traditional areas and what I find really interesting about it is how you have to deal with temperature you know climate and you know how you're going to make your changes there and you own your own ranch where you're doing 100 of your own grain to glass so you really have control of everything from front to back when you started out doing whiskey did you did you feel like you had enough knowledge of of grains that it probably would be an easy transition into making whiskey or were you a little bit hesitant on that well that's a good question we you know my family's been farming in Nevada since 1854 and we've always grown grains wheat rye barley and corn and that's really who we are and what we do and so we actually got our license to legally start distilling it's a federal license because there was no state laws until 2013. but we got our federal experimental license in 2006 and that gave us you know six or seven years until 2013 to get all of our grain varieties figured out so we did lots of tests with different varieties of grain different ways of like fertilizer and irrigation management and different you know all these different things that we can do in the field there's a lot of things we can do in the field to create better quality for distilling purposes and I always got to say that because you know it's almost the opposite of what we do if we were growing it for the cattle market and so by growing it ourselves and really focusing on on one aspect at a time we were able to determine which varieties grew the best you know there's little things we can do like drought stressing them at certain times and and things like that certain fertilizers that we don't want to add because they might lower our starch and increase our proteins and things like that so you know that way in 2013 when we built our big distillery that we have now we knew exactly how we wanted to grow it we knew our mash bills our types of yeast we were going to use the type of equipment we wanted and we just said we don't want to cut any corners at that point we want to get the exact equipment that we want so we actually have a continuous still and a pot still so everything goes through two different distillation processes you know we have all big five thousand gallon fermenters and mash cookers and and beer wells and and then we always said we're not going to release any whiskey if it's under four years old ever and so we don't want to cut any corners we're just gonna wait the full time and so that's why we're really fortunate and and you know yeah it's it's interesting that Nevada took a while to get all of that passed so you're sitting there between 2006 and 2013 and you've got a license does that mean that you are able to create it you just can't sell it to anybody exactly so we could make it you know we could age it we could experiment with it but we just couldn't let anybody else taste it and we couldn't sell it and so it was kind of like a blessing in disguise because it really gave us really a confidence in what we were doing when we you know got the laws passed in 2013 and we were able to produce a decent quantity we got a lot of whiskey in the pipeline now so it's it's really you know it was it was a big mode of confidence for me so did you start out creating your own pot still and doing it kind of small scale and then ramp up yeah and so I built our first three pot stills from scratch myself and we kind of played around with them and tweaked them and and changed the heads on them and the you know the cooling apparatuses and and condensers and everything else and so you know really I love to tink around like that and so when we were able to go to vendome copper and brass and have them make our still we kind of knew exactly what we wanted and how we wanted it made and and you know that that really gave us a head up on if we didn't do that and you started with a pot still but now you have a combo don't you you've got a hybrid still yep so we have a continuous still and a pot still and we like it that way because we feel like with the pot still we can do we can fine tune it more we can take a generous heads cut if we want to we can take a nice tails cut we got you know you can you can do the things that you can't really do as easily on a continuous still but with the continuous stills they're so much more efficient and so it was great because we got the efficiencies of the continuous stills and we stripped down all the mash and the continuous stills and then we pump it to the pot still and we redistill everything one batch at a time in the pot still and so we feel like we're getting quantity from the continuous stills but quality from the pot stills and so it's kind of the best of both worlds you know instead of putting eight percent mash into the pot still we're able to put 40 or 45 percent alcohol that's come out of the continuous still in there and redistill and get five or six times more volume per batch in the pot still okay how did you come up with your formulas your your mash bills did you come up with a set of like three or four different ones and kind of go between them and then we have to talk about aging as well because you'd have to be probably testing out different lengths of time and and what was your process in in doing that yeah that's a great question what we did first is we distilled every one of them on their own because we wanted to taste what they taste like without any other influence of any other grains and so wheat rye barley and corn and we could taste it and then we kind of decided like we like the creaminess that the wheat gives off and the rye gives a nice little spice and then the corn is so balanced and then malted barley is is less about flavor and more about the enzymes that it creates during the you know mashing in and the liquefying of the starches and there's so many you know good things that barley does and so we actually our our mash bill is four grains it's wheat rye barley and corn you know and obviously in bourbon it's it's it's more corn than anything because it's got to be ours is 66 and we're really open about our mash bill and our you know everything that we do because we feel like nobody else could really replicate it because they you know they'd have to grow the grain in our soil with our varieties with our irrigation techniques and then you know have our distilling set up and you know archives of yeast and everything else and so we're really open with our mash bills and and everything else did you find yourself actually changing some of your farming techniques when you started coming up with the mash bills absolutely and so and that's the that's what's really fun as a farmer is to kind of play around with different varieties of grains with different like I said irrigation techniques and and different fertilizers and everything else and we're continually experimenting every year we might plant the 90 of a field with what we know works and 10 with a new variety or two that that we want to just test and what's great about it is if we don't like the way it turns out if the grain's not perfect for the distillery it's still great cattle feed and we can sell it to the you know there's dairies next door or whatever and so we're able to you know continually learn like that we we tell everybody with better inputs you end up with better outputs and so you know by growing our own grains and growing them in a way that encourages quality and I always say for distilling purposes because we don't want to knock what other farmers do you know farmers are all great but for our purposes they need to be a certain way and so we can grow the grain better by growing it ourselves and we could just buy it on the open market and were you already doing those four grains on your farm at that time yes and so we've always grown those grains and maybe not every year all four of them you know but the markets go up and down and so you know as a market would go up for one or the other we would grow it and and so my family that's why for whiskey it was just a natural fit for us because we've always grown grain I've always loved whiskey and it was kind of a way for me to combine my my love of agriculture and whiskey and and start making whiskey so nice we're going to take this timeline backwards actually and we'll work back to 1854. so you guys when you got started on this you you took this over from your father and your your father actually had a winery that he started on on site so how much of that winery experience helped you in figuring out what you were going to do with a distillery where you're going to be pulling all of your grains in from your own farm yeah that's a great question because we also have had a vineyard here on the farm and my dad was looking for ways that consume crops that consume less water you know and you can generate income additional income and vertically integrate so he planted vines and we started a winery and it really made it taught me a lot about fermentation you know a lot about the you know the basics of everything and we're sitting there and it was it was my idea I'd always liked whiskey better than wine and I always thought why are we're growing wheat right barley and corn already it's what we've grown for 165 plus years why aren't we making something out of those too and making whiskey which you know is is you know in my opinion is a bit better fit for us our family and who we are and I in addition to just on the agricultural side and the fermentation side it also allowed us to learn about how you know distribution works and placements in your off-premise and your on-premise accounts and you know really establishing that relationship with our distributor so that when we had our bourbon ready you know we were already existing customers of theirs and it was a really natural transition and really easy way for us to pivot from the wine to the whiskey and and focus on that instead I think this is what we sometimes forget about when you're talking about starting up a distillery is the business side there is a lot of business to know and having some of that experience you know coming from the winery which was that distributed mainly within the state or did that also kind of go outside the state it was it was a lot smaller than any of the quantities that we put out for our bourbon but I mean you know it allowed us to to learn about packaging and it you know the glass and bottling and you know pickups from our distributor and sending bills you know everything that you know we talk about on the business side yeah and I'm I'm fortunate because my grandfather told my dad my dad wanted to go to school for agriculture and my grandpa said don't go to school for agriculture you can't learn agriculture in a book you kind of got to learn everywhere you go is different if you go to the midwest it's different than where we are and you go to california wherever you go in the world it's there's different soil types there's different climates there's different I mean even different markets for the crops that you're growing you know and so he said I can teach you everything you need to know about agriculture go learn business in school because more farms go bankrupt because of bad business practices than bad farming practices and so my dad became a CPA and so that was really fortunate because he taught me a lot about business and then I went to school and got my degree in business management and so then came back to the farm and so I really think that agriculture is a lot of business but then it's also a lot of other things you got to be a weatherman you got to be a agriculturist you got to be a mechanic you got to be a electrician yeah electrician a plumber you know you got to be a little bit of everything and so it was great because growing up my dad and I we built wagons from scratch just out of you know big wagons we built remodeled all kinds of tractors we built a cannon you know all kinds of fun stuff growing up that really gave me confidence in doing things like building a distillery and so in the distillery we did all of our own plumbing all of our own electrical you know a lot of the the the main parts of the distillery when vendome actually built our still they they built it in the factory took a few pictures and then sent us the pictures and we had to put it together just looking at these pictures because it's one of a kind you know and so it was really fun for us because it allowed us to to understand it inside and out but it's that that confidence that my dad gave me by you know building all kinds of stuff growing up to to do that kind of stuff it feels like whiskey and agriculture probably go hand in hand that way that learning how to make whiskey is something that just develops over time you you experiment you I hear about people going to school for distilling and then coming out and becoming distillers and I do 100 plus distillery tours hearing different processes everywhere different opinions on how to make whiskey and I think how could anybody come out of school and really handle this right off the bat exactly and that's why you have to do it and that's why we're really fortunate to have gotten our license seven years before we really started producing a large commercial quantity and you know as farmers we got lots of time in the winter and so we had all kinds of experiments going on and we really fine-tuned it and knew what we wanted and I'm really fortunate because a lot of people said why don't you hire a consultant or why don't you go to school and learn you know learn something and like you said everywhere is different and I feel like if I would have done that I would have had you know more of a tunnel vision rather than being open for all kinds of different possibilities yeah it's it's fun to see also the personalities that each of these distilleries get through all of that sort of self-diagnosis and and also where you kind of get your passion for what kind of whiskey you want to make your mate you started out with bourbon was that is that your goal is to be known for bourbon or will you jump into experimenting with other stuff well that's that's a good question our flagship bourbon is about eighty percent of our production and then we do about fifteen percent rye whiskey which is the mash bill is actually a hundred percent rye so that's really exciting and a fun project for us and then the last five percent is actually some fun innovation that cool we can kind of touch on it's something he loves yeah I always tell everybody it's five percent of our production but it's 90 of the fun you know so we make all kinds of different whiskeys and what's neat is we make each one individual still because I really like the flavors of 100 wheat 100 rye 100 barley 100 corn but we also malt here on site so you know we want to have total control over our entire process and so to do that we have to melt our own barley on site and so by malting our own barley that means we can also malt corn wheat and rye and though we actually have a like 100 corn malt which is kind of fun it's really interesting that the taste we have a quad malt which is wheat rye barley and corn in the same ratios but they're all malted as our bourbon and so that's kind of neat to taste what you know all the malted grains taste like next to our others but we also made scotch style you know single malts we made a smoked oat and rye and all kinds of just fun unique stuff boat whiskeys we have five grain oat loaded bourbons have all kinds of neat stuff that we haven't released yet because 80 of our our production is bourbon and so we wanted to release our bourbon get a good foothold in that before we release any of our our fun specialty products and so we wanted to be a we are we're a bourbon distillery that makes other fun stuff but I didn't want to be known as a distillery that makes a bourbon you know yeah it would be really interesting because you would have something that I haven't seen anywhere else if you did this in your visitor center where you could taste an oat whiskey you could taste a corn only whiskey you could taste a malt only whiskey a rye only whiskey and kind of have the opportunity to taste all those side by side because you know I mean I think most distillers do tend to use that little bit of of malt malted barley and that's just a technique that gets used everywhere and it's only now that I'm starting to hear people say oh well I you know we have a malted rye and so we just use the malt in the rye to be able to do our creation of our whiskey yeah and that's what I always wonder like when you get a 80 percent rye or a 55 whatever percent rye you always wonder how much of the flavors coming from these other products you know the other not products but the other grains and so that's why I wanted to do 100 of each and then also I this is kind of a fun project that is a couple years down the road but I always thought it'd be kind of fun to do like a store blend you know instead of a store barrel pick you can send them a vial of 100 wheat 100 percent corn 100 percent right and they could sit there with a syringe or something and just get the exact ratio that they want for their store you know or their their pick absolutely I think individuals would love to do that as well you know the big trend right now is to get your own little mini barrel that's charred and put whiskey in it and you know finish it yourself and and we have lots of moonshine around me I live in south carolina I'm not far from Tennessee and so you see these moonshine places all over the place and I actually did stop off and buy some moonshine that were different mash bills to see if I could kind of formulate my own and then put it in the barrel and age it myself yeah so it's very yeah very similar and that's what I thought it'd be kind of fun and a store could go in and say they could they could post their their recipe or they could just say no this is our secret recipe you know

 

so let's step back again into the the history as we're kind of stepping back towards how you got the ranch because the ranch was actually the town of Genoa I believe is the first town in Nevada and then that was founded in 1851 and you're there was a Frey Ranch in Genoa in 1854 so where did the where did the family come from before they were they were they in Nevada before that or did they that was that was a mormon settlement so I don't know if that was they came in with that settlement or they didn't come in with the mormon settlement but they were they were there at the same time and and they originally we settled and we got our first deeded property in 1854 and so it was actually the first deeded property in Nevada it was Nevada didn't become a state until 1864 and so it's 10 years before was considered a state and that it was actually my great-great-grandfather and seven other people there's eight people that were deeded property at the same time for the first you know the first eight ranches and it's kind of neat his ranch was in Genoa and it's still there it's not the Frey Ranch anymore now they call it ranch one because it was the first branch in Nevada and so they came from the french germany border originally and then they they came from back east we have quite a bit of family I think in Louisiana still new orleans no no yeah and so we have a picture in the distillery actually of my my great grandfather and his brother and then there's two brothers that stayed in in in Louisiana and they came to see each other after 50 years in the late 1890s they hadn't seen each other for years and they have a picture and it went in the paper and it's kind of neat you know brothers for 50 years yeah that was the news yeah big news and and and so then it's 1944 when your grandfather got the property that you're on now so did he sell off his interest in the other and then move over how did that work so in the meantime they they moved to the Lake Ridge area of Reno which is south Reno and there's a golf course and a bunch of fancy houses there now but and right next to it was the peckham that's my great grandmother is a Peckham and the Peckham's owned a lot of places around Reno I we have a picture of my great grandmother and her 1899 University Nevada Reno basketball team picture wow they all played in dresses the ball didn't even look round it was I did well yeah it's in the championship game by a score of two points to three points yeah fighter wow but anyway so the Peckhams and the phrase lived next to each other and so my great-grandmother and great-grandfather met got married and my grandma great-grandmother died giving birth to my great uncle her great-great-grandmother gave anyways and my great grandfather was heartbroken and so he actually moved to Churchill County into the Fallon area here which because it's known for its really high quality farm ground wherein what they call the oasis of Nevada Nevada is mostly desert so right here in Fallon we have a lot of an abundance of water and agriculture and farm ground and so we moved here and then my grandpa bought this place that we're on right now in 1944 at the time it was owned by a senator and he it has a really nice big house on it but it's really a neat story because also in our distillery tasting room we have a picture of a dirt dugout and he literally lived in a dirt dugout on another farm in town here and he he farmed it for three years and it was just a dirt hole dirt floor dirt everything so that he could save up enough money to put a down payment on this place and he was given some farm ground that was considered unfarmable and he was able to pull thousands of trees he invented this tree stump puller out an old model a car and some geared down gears that he got from a mine and he pulled thousands of trees and made this ground farmable and then he sold it to his baby brother the one that my great great grandmother died giving birth to for a dollar and then bought this ranch that we're in right now for sixty thousand dollars in 1944 which at the time everybody said that he's gonna go broke that's all you know that's a ton of money and today you can barely buy a truck for that you know yeah well it's it's also interesting to think about it seems counterintuitive to go to the high desert of Nevada to become a farmer yeah so what what are the what are the challenges that you find you have to deal with in farming in that that kind of it's not a terrain thing because I think you're from what I saw there's a lot of flat land but it's it's more just that elevation and probably the soil and that sort of thing yeah and I think that one of the things that when people were settling in Fallon and moving here there was a promise of water and we're really fortunate because we have a wonderful irrigation district and we have the water that flows from both sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains so both sides I guess of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains through the Carson River and the Turkey River and then they go to a man-made reservoir called Lahontan and that's what the farmers can pull off of and so I think that without that we wouldn't we wouldn't we wouldn't be here yeah that's what's really neat and so it was the first federal reclamation project in the state of Nevada it was in the early early 1900s like 1901 or 1902 some you know I'm not 100 sure and they built the dam and we have all of our water is all surface irrigated flood water so we don't use a lot of electricity we don't pump it from the ground or anything like that like most of the farms around Nevada and then and really around the country you know and then we don't get a lot of rainfall though and so it's actually a good and a you know a good thing in a way because we get the water on the fields when it needs it but we're not you know we're not that feast and famine that they have in the you know midwest and a lot of places either too much water not enough water you know and so we're also really dry here not very humid which is really good for when we're trying to grow the grains because we don't have mold issues we don't have fungus or mildew and all that kind of those kind of problems that you might have if you're constantly getting either rainfall or if you're irrigating with sprinklers or anything like that that you know grain goes towards the top of the plant if it's wheat rye or barley or in the middle of the plant if it's corn and we flood irrigate everything so it all goes on the ground underneath the grain so it's not getting that that constant filter you know water filtered or irrigating over it so we also is very dry here so we don't have to use dryers or anything like that in our silos to to dry the grain down to get it to store properly and so we're really kind of in this unique ideal spot to grow the the grains and then also even we do grow some other crops like alfalfa on the ranch the ranch is pretty big so we got extra ground for other stuff and what's really cool is this year all of our alfalfa and actually the last couple years is going to China Dubai Taiwan and Japan because it's such high quality here because we are in a pretty decent elevation we're at about 3 960 feet and we get really hot days and cool nights and what that does it allows the plants to grow during the hot days and then breed during the cool nights and so it's really good for the plants you know their growing process and we grow really good corn here we've always grown lots of corn and and and wheat rye and barley and you also have dairy cattle there is that correct we don't but there's a dairy next door boarding our farm okay all the byproducts from the farm here get sold to the dairy next door so all the the spent grain goes to the dairy and then what's great is they make a lot of manure manure is the best fertilizer there is so we take that manure we spread it on the fields to grow the next crop and it's this nice little circle where the feed goes over to them and we get the fertilizer back and you know by we're actually sitting in right now my grandpa used to have a dairy here that my dad didn't care for dairy cows and they got rid of it in the 70s but we're sitting in the dairy barn right now that my grandpa used to milk his cows and he built wow in the early 50s it's not a dairy barn anymore it's a beautiful office so so Ashley did you have a family that had a background in farming or are you learning on the fly yeah learning on the fly but enjoying it and having a lot of fun I love how we have vertically integrated our business and we touch every aspect of it so from growing the grains to you know milling distilling to the packaging and to selling it in the tasting room being able to do that full circle is kind of what I love and really understanding the business that way is something that I've taken great pride in and I think one of my favorite things to do is when we sell a bottle in the taste room it's the first time any of those ingredients have ever left our possession so I think that's a point of pride for us and Ashley also so we're I'm really fortunate because she's also has her marketing and pr degree and so she's really good on the marketing the pr the packaging you know did you have something to do with this beautiful heavy bottle yeah I took the lead on all the packaging and everything from that beautiful topper you know was something that was important to us it's the shape of a bolt which is we felt like something that you would you would see here on the farm and I find them in cold pockets all the time when I'm doing laundry and they're solid we did not want to go with plastic we wanted them to be you know a nice have a nice weight to it and then as you work your way down to the label you'll see that it it's kind of like a belt that wraps around the bottle and it's actually in the exact same shape as Colby's belt buckle that his grandfather gave to his dad and his dad passed down to him so it you know wrapped around the whole bottle and we pulled that beautiful yellow color from the sha the color of corn so as you can see I mean it's it's exactly the same color we call it fragrance yellow and also represents the beautiful sun sunrises and sunsets and the grain growing in the field and then I'm not sure if you noticed but if you tip over the bottle you'll see that we do have what we call a hidden message on the bottom and it says be good to the land and the land will be good to you frame range of state five generations farming in Nevada product of the usa so you know the good land and the land will be good to you is just a frayed family motto that is not just a motto but a way of life here we have to take care of our soil and take care of the farm and that's you know the beginning of our operation if we don't take care of the farm then we don't have a future right you know as farmers so I want to pass the farm to my kids on in you know in as good or better condition than I received it in and I'm fortunate that my dad and my grandpa and everybody did the same thing and so that's why it's really important you know to be the founders the foundation of our bottle and kind of the foundation of us as farmers so I heard that you guys had a very interesting way that you met do you want to tell that story

 

yeah so I was going to college at the university of Nevada Reno unr and Ashley was obviously two and I lived with four other guys and Ashley lived with four other girls and at one point all four guys in my house were dating the four girls in her house so then Ashley and I started dating and then it's it's funny because they all you know all of our roommates broke up over time none of them got married or anything and Ashley and I did so it made our wedding kind of interesting because they're all still close friends yeah nice and you're from Gardnersville yep I grew up down in Gardnerville but you know born and raised in Nevada I was gonna say the I got a chance to go there went to jt basks oh nice got to throw a dollar bill up on the ceiling yeah that's that's that that's a really cool area in there it's beautiful the Sierra Nevada mountains just running right along there just punch I had a pecan punch yes yeah absolutely so yeah so when I'm kind of edging into the conversation about the tourism side of things because we talk about you know you're not far from Virginia City you're not far from Reno you're not far from Genoa in that area down there as well and so what are you guys doing in terms I know covet has probably changed some stuff but but what are you guys doing for your tours do you show off the distillery are you showing off some of the ranch how does that tour go sure so we're open every Saturday noon to four we do complimentary tours and tastings we like people to be able to experience our way of life here on the farm so while we don't do necessarily tours of the farm ground you see it you're you're breathing in that beautiful country air you drive through it yeah when it's 15 feet tall just to get to the property but when you're on the tour of the distillery you start in the still room and you can see the mash flowing through the tanks and the stills and then you go in the back in the fermentation room where you can actually see that fermentation taking place with the bubbling tanks and the mash cooker and then we go right next door to the barrel house where you're able to actually see the aging barrels and that room smells wonderful it's typically people's favorite part because it's you know so beautiful with the expansive you know barrels and you know the aromas that come off of it are amazing yeah the warehouse is always one of my favorite spots so you how are your how's the climate for aging whiskey in Nevada do you do you have to do anything in that warehouse to control the temperature at all or do you just let it go and and and how is that affecting the aging on your bourbon yeah so that's that's a really good question because here in northern Nevada at the high elevation it gets down to zero degrees for a couple weeks in the coldest part of the winter and it gets up to over 100 degrees for the hottest part of the summer and that really allows that expansion and contraction so our all right let me let me explain our barrel warehouses are unheated on air conditioned okay and want them to get the whiskey to get hot during the hot summers and expand in the barrel and then cold during cold winters and contract and really helps with that aging and so here you know they always say that four seasons is really important for the aging of whiskies and Ashley and I always laugh because here we have four seasons in one day sometimes you know definitely can you know age whiskey really well here the only negative part about our climbing is there's very little humidity and so we do have humidifiers in the barrel warehouses because at high humidity you actually lose more high humidity you actually so water so which would make the alcohol content go up if the humidity is low we don't want you know we don't want the water to come out of the barrels we'd actually rather lose alcohol at high humidity therefore we don't have to add as much water to get it down to 90 proof like the bottle you're you have right there and so then it's more concentrated it's more flavorful we're not having to dilute it as much with the water and so that humidity is really important for for a couple reasons yeah so once you get through say four years to five years worth of aging where is your proof in that barrel it it almost stays the same and it's it's wild because we just bought we just dumped batch number two of bourbon so a couple days ago we tested the proof and it was just a couple like points like I'm I'm talking about like two percent off of where we put it in the barrel as an average and the barrels really vary from barrel to barrel but it's very close it probably helps you in kind of getting familiar with the taste as well that you're not having to taste it as it's getting stronger or as it's it's getting weaker you you have consistency there yeah yep and I think that really has a lot to do with the adding the humidity to the barrel warehouse whereas if we didn't do that I think the proof would go out up a lot I think I am probably the one podcaster on whiskey who takes the longest to actually taste the whiskey I just let it sit there and tease me for as long as I possibly can yeah so you have multiple types of you're you're doing a you do a rye and you have the straight bourbon and you actually have this in a higher proof or is this this is a 90 proof yeah right so what you're going to taste is our 90 proof our four grain straight bourbon whiskey aged almost five years or an average of five years we have our rye whiskey which like I mentioned is a hundred percent rye this one is aged five years bottled and bond so it's at a hunter proof and then we also have our single barrel product which is the same mash build as the 90 proof but it's expressed as a single barrel at cash strength so this is whatever that single barrel proof came out at and it's not blended with any other so each single barrel will have a little bit different taste we have some that come out really caramelly and butterscotch creme brulee we have some that are earthy and spicy and woodsy and some that are like fruit bombs which is amazing that they that they're able to taste so different but based on where they are in the warehouse you know the mash bill's the same distillation techniques are same but but their aging is a little bit different where they're located and and what type of barrel we use is there a strategy that you use in choosing which ones are going to become your single barrel cask strength there I think our strategy is that we just have to taste them every single barrel yeah and and we we keep them out for different like Ashley said for different reasons we don't want them all to taste the same either yeah and so we want to offer different store picks so that they're a little bit unique now none of them are off the wall like just crazy you know different but some of them like Ashley said are fruity or caramely or maybe spicy yeah we just in batch to when we tasted through those I mean we we don't find any bad barrels but we do find some barrels we found two of them that have this like vanilla wafer I mean it's wild it's and it's like it's nothing like the other barrels that they're around but it's like just these two barrels come out because we're like that's really good yeah we're gonna keep losing that difference I was gonna say vanilla wafer would have been right up my right up my alley so yeah don't throw that barrel away have you ever had a barrel that you've gotten to and you went no this isn't gonna work no I we haven't had any of those out of I think we've dumped several hundred barrels now so you know but we have had several barrels that were completely empty by the time we got to them yeah they they leak a little bit or whatever yeah that's going to be heartbreaker so what's interesting is all the different notes that you went through I've experienced in some way or another with this one I cheated and did sip a little bit ahead of time sometimes what I'll do is I'll either just go in blind and do the tasting right away which scares me because I never like you know just approaching it when I'm under pressure and trying to come up with tasting notes so that time of just sitting there and enjoying it and sometimes I'll even go out and I'll read other people's tasting notes just to see if what I'm picking up is what they're picking up and and it's really interesting because as I'm as as I was reading notes somebody had mentioned let this whiskey sit for a little while in the glass before you drink it and when I first tasted it I poured it straight out and I started to drink it and I remember walking away from it going I liked it but it was but there was a lot of the kind of ethanol properties to it the the the fumes of the whiskey itself were overpowering me at first and I came back to it two days later poured it in the glass after reading somebody saying that let it sit there for five minutes and I went wow this is like a different whiskey I mean that that there's a hint of that in there but it's just a hint all the other stuff starts to come through and I wonder if that is because of first of all the non-chill filtering but maybe also because you're using you know four different grains in there and we're used to bourbons being either rye bourbons or or wheat bourbons I think so too and I think some people always notice that the neck they call that the neck pour you know the first one that you dump out of the bottle yeah is a little bit different than the rest of the bottle you know and so I always kind of try to pay attention to that and don't take too much weight on the neck four and drink that one and then taste the next one and yeah and it's kind of fun but I do I do think that you know our whiskey does open up really nicely yeah so the caramel comes out to me very strongly there's what's it surrounds the glass and it also surrounds the entire experience from front to back for me it's like it never leaves you and it actually punctuates on the end for me it's like that kind of a toffee kind of thing almost that hits me on on the finish I get the butterscotch too and a little bit of maple yeah and I I'm always I've always really liked and and I guess when we're coming up with our recipes and everything else what's just as important for me is the finish as the you know the actual taste of the whiskey because it's what makes you want to keep drinking and that's what I really enjoy about this whiskey is it has a really good finish it kind of makes you want to drink more not you know sometimes I drink a whiskey and I think I just I just want this to stop now you know so what's interesting on this one is that I can't put my finger on it actually I can now at this point a part of me wanted to say it was right before you get to the finish it has the rye is coming through but I think what's happening with the rye initially is I was kind of mixing it with kind of a baking spice thing that I was getting but now rather than being a cinnamony kind of thing it's it's more of a black pepper right and it and it rides there but then it just you know kind of fades off as as you go into now I feel like I've just been had one of those little caramel candies in my mouth and it just kind of lingers on your tongue it's really interesting yeah and that's what that's what we were shooting for for that finish you kind of want that kind of sweet lingering finish but also if you if you taste it what I attribute a lot of the mouth feel it's got a little bit of a creaminess to the mouth and we I think that that a lot of that comes from the wheat and so if we take the weed out you don't have that same creamy mouthfeel and that's why we felt all of the grains were so important to put wheat or rye and wheat in there you know rather than just the rye or leader you know they both kind of add a little bit of complexity you get a little bit of the creaminess and sweetness from the wheat up front but then that right kind of little kick right there and then a nice caramel finish yeah now I know a lot of places will source rye whiskey because they just they say that rye is hard to work with do you find that rye is hard to work with yeah it's it's a giant pane to work with so there's polymers that are are in rye that you know during fermentation is probably what they normally talk about and what happens is the viscosity is very thick and it's almost like the easiest way it's kind of gross to talk about but it's kind of like snot you know when you stick your you stick your finger like this your you know it sticks to your fingers and it's just kind of slimy and stringy and what happens is during fermentation the yeast is converting the sugar and the grain to alcohol or the starch and you know in the form of sugars and then it's creating co2 and the problem is that co2 has no way to evacuate out of the you know that thick viscosity it doesn't float to the top like it should you know in a in a more watery liquid so the a lot of times it expands in size unless you get a lot of enzymes and and malt or or whatever to put in it and that's why you very rarely see a hundred percent rye whiskey and so but ours were able to figure it out we actually we used to fill up our tanks halfway full because it would actually expand to double the size oh wow you would settle back down to where it was you know once it got to a certain point during fermentation the viscosity you know gets more watery and it it allows all those bubbles to dissipate out and it shrinks back to where it was but nice but that's why rye is so hard and then it it's it's it's really interesting though but wheat is kind of crazy when we did our wheat whiskey it actually volcanoed like you'd look at the tank and it just looked perfectly calm and all of a sudden it'd shoot up three or four feet above the tank you know and just get this big vigorous you know bubbling you know movement in inside the tank and then it calmed back down again it was really weird oh whiskey oat whiskey was really funny because oats are 60 holes you know and this hole is a little protective coating around the grain and so it's almost a you know protective shell maybe but it's not really a shell but those holes would float to the top of the fermentation tank during the fermentation it almost looked like a muffin they just all float to the top and just had this big mutants on top of it you know I could almost walk across it not that I would but you almost walk across it it's you know these these holes are on there and they all floated to the top so it's really interesting I was gonna say the other thing I hear about oats is that they just the consistency of them it makes it also very difficult to work with yeah and then oats have this like waxy characteristic almost like a rubbery waxy where it wants to coat the inside of the stills with like this wax that you can almost just peel off or a rubber like rubber yeah so it's really fun but what it taught me is is there's kind of a reason why bourbon is is america's drink I mean it's it's so much easier and more consistent I like the way it tastes better you know and and so it's it's kind of funny because it's almost like the easier they are to make yeah the more prevalent they are in the marketplace yeah I guess that's it's well I mean and having traveled through Tennessee it's really interesting to see what they're doing because they're trying to you know they have defined what Tennessee whiskey is and they really have a choice all these new distilleries whether they want to make a Tennessee whiskey which would be something that would be specific to their state that no other state could do and a lot of people you know think if you ask the common person they'll say well bourbon is just from Kentucky and that you can't you nobody else can make it which of course isn't true you can make it make it anywhere but the fun part is now seeing how different areas treat bourbon differently and where you'll go into experimenting or where you may try to use a different variety of a of a grain like for your corn what type of what type of corn do you grow there yeah so it's a non-gmo just basically a field corn it's it we're actually looking for starch in the corn so everybody thinks like why don't you use sweet corn there's more sugar in sweet corn well we're actually looking for starch and and so it's very similar to the same kind of corn that we've always grown although there's lots of different varieties of the you know the same type of field corn and so every year this year actually I think we're we just talked to the the seed guy we get all of our seed from and we're going to try 13 different varieties in our test trial and they can actually send it out for you know starch content seed size we actually mill a little bit of it to see if it mills you know there's different you know characteristics of the way that it'll mill and ferment and everything else and so we can take these trials and see and then we also look at yield you know drought tolerance you know and how they grow in our particular soil too and so last year we planted a variety that was right next to another variety that we knew grew well and it didn't grow very well at all because it just wasn't the right type of grain or seed for our particular soil and everything else and so we know not to try that variety ever again but it's kind of fun to continually evolve and and learn have you brought any kinds of grains in other than that that you have have tested out and and that have stuck yeah so another one that we tested is a variety of oats that you know I was talking earlier how the holes are really a nuisance inside the distillery we found a variety of oats and we had to ship them in from canada but they're called naked oats or they had a fancy name for them but everybody calls them naked oats because they don't have whole they're wholelist okay and we could try to grow those for the distillery and those actually worked really well and then our can our rye is a canadian variety of rye we've always gotten our rye seed even before the distillery from canada because it's really acclimated to the cold winters you know it gets very cold here in in canada they do and so those varieties do really well in our cold climate and then it gets warm here in the summer and so I did a lot of research and tried to figure out what the best variety of rye is and I actually found out it's the one that we had always grown here it's it's you know the the same same variety with wheat it's it's the same varieties we always grow but there's different kinds of wheat there's there's soft wheat there's hard wheats there's red wheats there's white wheats you know soft red soft white you know whatever and so we experimented with all kinds of different varieties and and a lot of times it has a lot to do with the way that they mill and then the way that they they actually get broken down when we cook them inside the fermenters and so we were able to determine which kind we wanted and then from there there's lots of different types of wheat there's bearded wheats and beardless wheats and all these other things and so we planted lots of different varieties until we knew in 2013 when we started you know commercially we knew what we wanted and then every year we plant different varieties of that also with like barley a lot of places can't grow winter barley winter crops are ones that we plant in the fall and they grow all winter really slow and then we harvest them almost the same we we harvest them pretty close to the same time that we harvest our spring crops so we plant the spring but they grow you know they have all that time in the winter to grow really slow to stool out in the ground what that means is they get a really big vigorous root system so now it can take the nutrients from the soil better but can also withstand droughts and and lack of water anything like that not that we have droughts because we can irrigate them when they need it but they just between irrigations they're a lot more healthy and so a lot of places in the country it's really hard to grow for malting barley winter varieties of malting barley and so we tried it here and because of our lack of humidity you know in our really good soils and and everything we found that we're we're actually able to grow winter malting barley fairly well and so we switched from a spring variety that we used to plant to a winter variety that that we feel is better quality and it's yields better for the fields and it's just an all-around better variety so what were you this is interesting because I just went to mount vernon and was talking to them about how George Washington's distiller was utilizing the different he was a farm manager so same kind of a situation but he you know we were talking about rye and I said well what do people use rye for and he said well they were using it to shift crops basically to keep the the soil good what what do you do with your rye is your before you had a distillery what was what was the purpose of the rye yeah that's a good question so rye is a really good forage crop so like dairies we would take it as silage a lot of the time so they would cut it and they would chop it up into fine pieces they make a giant pile and it actually ferments inside this big dry they call it a drive over pile where you you drive over big tractors and pack it down yeah and then feed it to cattle or we would sometimes we would bail it but it's it's not as often that we would do that into like hay bales and things like that and sometimes people use rye and I think what they were talking about is a cover crop right so they'll plant it in the winter and it'll hold the ground and the you know the soil and everything and then sometimes and I actually did it this last year we had some extra rye and instead of taking it to silage or bailing it we actually incorporate it into the soil and it makes really good organic matter for the soil and it's like this green manure and then I planted corn after that and the corn did phenomenal I mean it was enormous after you know incorporating we chopped it up first into little tiny pieces and then incorporated into the soil and it really really helps the soil and gives it lots of nutrients and so there's a lot of things you can do with rye nice that's good to know I mean I felt like when I was hearing them talk about it that rye was probably for the longest time just sort of being discarded and then here comes in a farm manager who said we could make whiskey and then we would have to throw all this rye away yeah no that's always fun with the history of everything for ours so ours we call it cereal rye and that's what rye green is you know the varieties that we grow and everybody says what's cereal rye you know and what's you know the difference is there's also rye grass so there's perennial rye grass which is actually just a type of grass and then what we grow is cereal rye okay so relating more to a grain than a grass rain than a grass exactly okay that's interesting all right so me being a big fan of scotch it's it's interesting to think about malting I miss the fact that we don't get to see malting in most distilleries in the United States because if you go well it's even disappearing in scotland I think there's only four distilleries in scotland that still do on-site malting how was your experience first of all learning how to malt and one of the things that they have a problem with there is that the malt when you're malting you're constantly having to shovel and flip that that barley and that's where they say the term monkey shoulder comes from is from those guys who would just be turning that barley are you doing it the manual way or are you using a machine to do it no so we have a big drum and it's a big drum that rotates and so it can turn real slow and the importance of getting it mixed up is to keep the you know the moisture really consistent but also to keep the rootlets all the little rootlets will grow together and you'll just have one solid mat let it and so by rotating the drum real slow it kind of keeps everything really consistent the moisture content the temperatures everything else really consistent but it also keeps that those rootlets from growing together so we have a big drum and we have a separate steep tank and in the steep tank we get them all the grain to absorb the moisture you know what we're trying to do in the malting process and and I'm sure you know but we're just germinating grain grain as a seed we're germinating the seed so first we hydrate it we get it to absorb moisture and then we put it inside this drum and the drum creates the ideal germinating condition so we can add heat we can cool it we can humidify it whatever it takes to create the ideal germinating conditions and so the the barley will sprout or whatever grain we're malting will sprout and then once it gets to a certain point we stop any future growth by drying it so we dry it down to below six percent moisture and that stops any future growth and you know what we've done by malting it is we created enzymes that really help with the liquefaction of starch in in the grains and so malt is a really important process and and like you said there's very few distilleries in the world anymore that really malt their own barley but for us we want to use a hundred percent of our grown grains so our wheat rye barley and corn that are in all of our whiskies and so to do that we have to malt around barley I could probably buy malted barley already made for 10 percent of what it cost me to make it myself yeah you know that's not who we are that's not what we want to do and so we have to malt our own barley but then that kind of opened up the door for allowing us to open you know to malt corn and to malt rye and to malt wheat and all these other grains that aren't traditionally malted did you ever because I know you talked about making a scotch-like whiskey did you ever toy around with trying to smoke your your while doing the malting process yeah so we did what we did was I made a our own smoker and it's kind of unique a little bit different than they do it in scotland but it's I put a chimney at the top of a 25 ton silo and then I had a little fan at the bottom and I smoked our our homemade peat which I'll tell you about in a second in in the in a little side in a little fireplace in the bottom that goes up the chimney and then filters through the grain and so what was really fun is as I took you know peat is decomposed plant matter over thousands of years you know that they dig in these bogs well we don't have any peat here on the ranch or in Nevada and so I made my own heat by decomposing corn stalks then taking the powder there's like a flower that comes off the mill yeah and I mixed it with water and I mixed it with these decomposed corn stalks then I pressed it in bread pans and made these blocks of of our homemade peat from the ranch here nice I smoked it with that homemade peat it was really fun you know in our barley and everything so it's kind of our scotch style you kind of played around with you know smoking some rye and oat which I think is going to be really interesting and and fun and other stuff too but that's that's kind of the fun stuff that I like to do yeah so that's sitting there aging right now kind of waiting to find out what that's going to turn out like if you just have you sampled it a little bit to I tasted the other day I'm really excited about it it's gonna be really good oh that's fun that's fun hey it and it's sticking with what you're trying to do which is grain to glass and even making your own peat which I've never heard of before so that's that's fantastic well this is that go ahead no yeah I was I was just going to say that's what's really fun for us as farmers is and you know they we've never sourced anything like that you know even the grains or the whiskey we didn't want to do that because that's not who we are there's nothing wrong with that I'm not saying anything you know anybody that does that's doing anything wrong but that's not who we are and so we wanted to to create a product that's from our farm I sense that you're still farm first yeah well both I think it's we see our our our bottle and everything says farmers plus distillers we're kind of we're not one we're not the other we're both right they're both martin nice so what's your what's your web address when people want to check out more information about you guys yeah so it's just freeranch.com you can like us on Facebook and Instagram and and everything yeah perfect excellent I'll post you guys up on my feed as well so yeah and we're open for free tastings and tours every Saturday from noon to four okay and everything's going fine right now through through covet at this point yeah we're being really safe so we're at 25 capacity today you know as the governor opens and closes things we might you know we'll change as we need to but we're really fortunate because we can send people on tours to keep them away from each other and socially distance and then every once in a while unfortunately we have to ask somebody to stay outside for five or ten minutes until a spot opens up inside the tasting room and then we can let somebody in yeah I think we're getting used to that though yeah fantastic well I love doing these interviews on site because it gives me a chance to to see and experience and Lake Tahoe and coming down through that area of the Sierra Nevadas is just absolutely beautiful so I'm sure I will be back sooner or later I'm I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys are doing and where you going with it yeah you're welcome anytime bring your gloves and your work boots and we'll put you to work for a while very good nice I'll have to I'll have to get on something a little less dressy very good well thank you very much I appreciate you Colby. thank you you have a good day all right you too the whiskey scene in this video was provided by the distiller for the purposes of demonstration opinions are 100 my own Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC I'm your host Drew Hannush until next time cheers in slainte mhath

 

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