That’s the spirit: New law brings boutique distilleries

Ever since a law passed allowing spirits to be distilled in the Silver State, a craft distillery industry has been brewing.

Now, it’s serving.

From Fallon and Minden to Sparks to Reno, boutique distilleries are following the path set by the multitude of craft brewers around the state.

Churchill Vineyards, the 10-acre winery located on the 1,200-acre Frey Ranch in Fallon, has been distilling under an experimental license since 2006 and is now selling brandy and working on whiskey, vodka, even absinthe, as one of the state’s first licensed distilleries.

“The main objective of the distillery is to take more of our products we grow,” says Colby Frey, owner of the ranch, winery and distillery.

Frey started with brandy because it’s made from grapes, the same grapes he cultivates for the half dozen wines sold under the vineyard label. But the farm also grows wheat, rye, barley and corn — most of the ingredients needed to produce other liquor such as whiskey, bourbon, vodka and gin.

“We have total control over it,” says Frey. “We know the pesticides, the fertilizer, how it was harvested and how it was stored.”

Frey has ordered additional plants — wormwood and anise, for example, needed for making absinthe — so he can grow and harvest everything he needs.

That’s part of the appeal for the consumer, especially area buyers who like supporting all things local.

“My wife tells people when they come into the winery that the bottle of wine they’re buying has never left the state,” says Frey.

Now the same can be said for its brandy and upcoming vodka, planned for the spring, and whiskey, scheduled to be available after aging in Kentucky-made oak barrels for the next four or five years.

Frey helped design the still custom-ordered from Vendome Copper & Brass Works Inc., the same still maker used by Jack Daniels and other large-scale commercial suppliers. He is building a separate, 5,000-square-foot building to house the 23-foot, 500-gallon still as well as a barrel house for 340 whiskey barrels. A malt house is located in an existing building on the farm.

Frey’s even found a way to wring more out of the farm’s crop. The grain, which previously was sold directly to dairies as feed, is now used to make the mash needed to distill spirits. The mash then is sold to the dairies, allowing the grain to be utilized twice over.

“We’re not losing anything, basically,” says Frey, who uses the manure produced by his mash and grain customers’ dairy cows to nurture the farm’s crops. “It’s a complete circle. We haul over feed and haul back fertilizer.”

Frey has also hired a full-time agronomist, Russell Wedlake, who he’s worked with for years on a consulting basis.

By law, craft distilleries can sell directly to the public but only two bottles per customer. Southern Wine & Spirits, a national distributor which distributes Churchill Vineyards wines, last week began delivery of the new brandy to the Beverage Market in Fallon.

“They wanted to be the first to market with it since it’s local,” says Tony King, general manager of the distributor’s Reno office.

King said he had lined up other outlets, including Aloha Discount Wine & Liquors in Carson City, Ben’s Fine Wine and Spirits in Reno, Sparks and Carson City and Dart Beverage Center in Stateline.

The distributor is also working with other homegrown distilleries that are cropping up.

“We’re meeting with Seven Troughs to figure out pricing,” says King. “And I hope to work with Bently.”

Seven Troughs Distilling Company, LLC, is Washoe County’s first distillery, according to Tom Adams, its president, The company last week unveiled the Sparks distillery, which is now open for tours and tasting. Its first product, made from Winnemucca-grown corn and wheat, is an un-aged, white whiskey called Recession Proof Moonshine.

“Bently” refers to Nevada Heritage, a craft distillery going in the Minden Flour Milling Co. building, owned and operated by Christopher Bently, president and director of Bently Enterprises, which includes the Bently Ranch. The historic building is undergoing renovations now and grains for distilling spirits there will be first harvested next summer. The distillery plans to produce bourbon, gin and other spirits.

Also announced last week was The Depot Crafts Provision Company, deemed by founders Chris Shanks and Brandon Wright as the state’s first combined brewery and distillery. Planned to open next summer, the operation will be located in the renovated Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad Passenger Depot on East Fourth Street in Reno.


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