Frey Ranch burst onto the scene in 2019 in a way I’ve hardly seen other new distillers do before. Not only did they have a 4 year old product right out of the gate, but it was made from their own grains grown on their own farm and distilled with their own equipment. The pictures that they spread across social media showed a warehouse (warehouses?) filled with barrels. How did such a large operation stay under the radar that whole time?
Their early success was guaranteed because the products they had were actually good – something people rarely say about a new craft distillery. The Frey’s bucked tradition and decided that their bourbon would be a four grain recipe (corn, wheat, rye and barley). Usually that’s a recipe for disaster (pun intended) given other distillery’s struggles making the same thing.
The Oddity of Four Grain Bourbon
The issue usually revolves around a four grain bourbon tasting unbalanced maybe due to the wheated component needing more time than the rye to taste like it’s matured. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the major Kentucky Heritage Distilleries lacking that kind of product in their portfolio. There’s a reason buried behind the choice of not creating permanent additions to their lineup when it would be easy to do.
Getting back on track, the Frey’s made a Four Grain bourbon work and their first release, a 90 proof version of the bourbon I’m reviewing today, was a hit. It surprised me and apparently a lot of other enthusiasts too. Evidence of that is in their rapid expansion across many different states and with more product diversification.
The proof for this single barrel is a rather high 127.48 proof. After 4+ years aging in the arid climate of northern Nevada, I might’ve expected more. But then I remembered that Frey Ranch is one of the few distilleries out West that controls the humidity inside of their warehouses. This is an expensive endeavor for sure, but one that makes sense. Fallon, Nevada has a lot of the same temperature swings as Kentucky, but with a much drier climate. This can do things to the whiskey inside of a barrel such as increasing water evaporation (which raises proof quickly) and creating an aggressively spicy final product. But adding humidity quells those two drawbacks a lot.
So how does a single barrel that is almost 40 proof points higher than their standard release taste? It’s time to find out. This review has been a long time coming. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Out of all the scents I thought I’d find first, floral is one I was not expecting. Rose petals and lilac add a more delicate touch to the bouquet. The rye really makes itself known in this regard. I also find sweet caramel notes coupled with honey and even maple syrup. That’s a lot of sweet notes at once! The nose also has a peculiar nutty note too, which goes well with the maple syrup aspect.
Palate: Woah, the first sip is hot! I can tell this is a young product immediately because the flavors, while plentiful, are all so aggressive. Cinnamon Red Hot candies combine with barrel char. Sweetness comes by way of a sugar cookie topped with nuts. Rye adds a bit of mint along with more floral and herbal flavors. The wheat might be responsible for bringing some cherry flavors to the mix too.
Finish: The finish seems to be packed full of flavors fighting for your attention. But first, you have to look past the residual heat and spices like cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne pepper and oak spice. If you do, you’ll find some vanilla, dark chocolate and a little citrus. The rye is probably doing its thing with this mint gum flavor I’m tasting while cherries follow through from the palate.
This single barrel from Frey Ranch has entirely too much going on here. It’s not really a coherent bourbon; with flavors and scents flying in from every direction and battling through all 127.48 proof points. It’s big and brash and kind of fun in that regard, but not balanced.
The rye wins out as the most dominant small grain of the two and makes me wonder what the wheat even brings to the table. On the plus side, I didn’t get any breadiness (which I dislike). I think the dark chocolate note on the finish was the wheat trying to show us it was there, but I’ll never know.
This is an odd one for me to score. If you go back to my original Frey Ranch Four Grain Bourbon Review from four years ago (has it really been that long?!) then you’ll see how I gave that one a better rating than this one. It’s one of those rare instances where I felt that the proofed down version just worked better without the added distraction of so much heat and unrestrained youthfulness.
There is no doubt in my mind that Frey Ranch is going to get better. They have all of the systems in place to make great whiskey and are set up to have a long and prosperous future. But I caution buyers to “try before you buy” with these single barrels because they may not be what you think they will be. This review might not tip your scale one way or the other, but it’s worth the reminder that we shouldn’t be so quick to rush into all of a brand’s products just because we’ve previously liked their work.
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