Back in 2013 when Colby and Ashley Frey broke ground on a distillery to produce ultra-premium whiskey using grains grown on their 2,500-acre farm in Fallon, they made just 4,000 nine-liter cases of whiskey.
Today, Frey Ranch produces more than 100,000 nine-liter cases of whiskey annually, which is about 1.2 million one-liter bottles of its signature bourbon, rye, and uncut farm-strength bourbon. A recent expansion of distillery operations, combined with brand expansions in multiple states, has the Frey’s raising a glass and toasting the good life.
It wasn’t always high times at Frey Ranch, though. Although the distillery produced its first spirits when operations came online in 2014, it wasn’t until five years later in December 2019 that the Freys were able to release their initial run of barrel-aged whiskey and finally draw some revenue from their production efforts.
“In 2014, I wish we had made a lot more,” Colby Frey told NNBW. “Even with COVID, we still met our sales goals, and we only sold in Nevada and just started selling in California.”
Income from crops grown on the ranch, as well as helping out other Churchill County farmers during harvest time, helped make ends meet during the lean years, Colby Frey said.
“Every dollar we made we put into buying some more whiskey barrels or into the distillery,” he said.
The Freys also used equity from their ranchland to raise capital for distillery operations.
“Without the farm, we couldn’t have done it,” Colby Frey said.
After launching in Northern Nevada, Frey Ranch expanded with a well-received launch into Southern Nevada in February 2020 – but a month later, COVID sidelined alcohol sales at bars and restaurants.
“Every single business was shut down, and we went from selling 1,000 cases in a month to like two because of COVID,” Frey said.
As farmers, the Freys are accustomed to wild swings and delays in income, though. Whiskey that’s produced today at Frey Ranch won’t hit the market until 2028 or 2029 at the earliest.
Ashley Frey said that despite knowing there would be a huge gap in time before Frey Ranch was able to draw revenue from its initial whiskey production, they still were confident they had a winning business plan.
“There really isn’t anyone else in the United States that’s growing their own grains on site and producing whiskey,” she said. “The quality of the product in the bottle, the brand’s story, and the quality of the packaging has contributed a lot to our success.
“It’s the triple threat – we have good whiskey, a good story, and good packaging, and that appeals to a lot of people, especially as we begin to expand,” she added.
Frey Ranch expanded into Arizona earlier this year, followed by Texas, Ohio and Georgia. Florida is likely next up for additional market expansion, Ashley Frey said.
Growth was planned in small steps in order to better manage the business as it grows, Colby Frey said.
“We didn’t want to release in all 50 states because we wouldn’t be able to focus and be able to learn all the different markets and laws,” he said. “Our goal was to start small, do a good job, figure out what’s working, and move on.
“Eventually, I think we will be in all 50 states,” he added.
Expansion is unique to each market. In Nevada, Frey Ranch is a producer that sells to a distributor who acts as a wholesaler to get their whiskey into retail outlets and on-premise customers.
Frey Ranch’s Nevada distribution partner is Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, which is the largest spirits distributor in the U.S. The company also distributes Frey Ranch products in California and Texas.
“They have an amazing team that gives us so much support,” Ashley Frey said.
Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is ushering Frey Ranch whiskey into other states – but that roadmap has more twists and turns than Geiger Grade.
“After Prohibition, each state has its own set of laws, and they are different in every single state, which makes it really complicated,” Ashley Frey said.
For instance, in Nevada, Frey Ranch must engage a third-party distributor. In Ohio, however, the state is the distribution partner.
“We actually sell pallets of whiskey to the State of Ohio,” Colby Frey said.
Distillery operations occupy a huge footprint at Frey Ranch, which also produces coveted Fallon alfalfa that’s exported to Dubai, China, Japan and Taiwan, Colby Frey said.
Currently, about 700 acres of Frey Ranch farmland is in grain for the distillery. Distillery operations, meanwhile, include approximately 5,600 square feet for distilling equipment; two 10,000 square-foot barrel-storage warehouses with a third underway; a smaller 2,200 square-foot barrel warehouse; a 1,200 square-foot malt room; a 6,000 square-foot dry goods storage facility; and a 1,500 square-foot office.
Colby Frey said the distillery footprint felt too large when first constructed, but today that additional space is proving invaluable as demand skyrockets and Frey Ranch moves into new geographical markets.
“I built the distillery thinking it was oversized and we were overdoing it, but now it’s still not big enough,” he said. “Our original goal was just to distill during the winter months and bring all the farm workers into the distillery and work in there. In the summer, we would shut it down and farm all summer. It didn’t take long to where we were distilling year-round and had to have separate crews.”
In 2020, the Freys added a second continuous still and doubled the size of their pot still. This year they added another 1,000 square feet onto the distillery building, as well as added two more fermenters and another mash cooker that will lead to a 50 percent increase in Frey Ranch’s overall whiskey production.
“Now we can do two mashes a day,” Colby Frey said. “We mash in the whiskey, cook the grains, cool it down and add yeast, which converts the fermentable sugars in the grain into alcohol.”
Employment at Frey Ranch’s distilling operations jumps to about 20 employees depending on the time of year and whenever bottling operations are underway. Farming operations, meanwhile, typically employ between six and 15. The ranch’s marketing and sales departments encompass an additional 12-15 people.
“Our team is constantly growing and evolving,” Ashley Frey said.
Colby Frey said the initial plan to open a distillery using grains from Fallon farming operations was a nod to his family’s deep roots in Churchill County and to create a lasting legacy for his children.
“My goal in life is to pass this farm to my kids in as good or better condition than I received it,” he said. “I want to make it justifiable for my kids to keep the farm in the family, and hopefully the distillery will make that worthwhile.
“My family has been farming in Northern Nevada since 1854, and Nevada didn’t become a state until 1864,” he added. “Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to be a farmer, and when I got older and met Ashley, we were looking for ways to showcase our crops; it’s not very fulfilling as a farmer to just sell your grains and be done with them. Doing something meaningful and being able to share them is a dream come true for a farmer. Our grains are now grown for a purpose.”