How Clyde May’s Whiskey Became the Official Spirit of Alabama

By February 2, 2015 13 comments Permalink

Mr. Clyde May returned to his beloved Alabama from World War II with a Purple Heart and Medal of Valor. The decorated war hero also returned to making Alabama moonshine. In the woods southeast of the state capital of Montgomery, in the hills and hollows of the Conecuh Ridge, using fresh spring water, local grains, copper stills and charred oak barrels for aging, Clyde May made a small batch craft whiskey that quickly gained regional notoriety for exceptional quality. The addition of oven-dried apples and hints of cinnamon resulted in a distinct whiskey flavor known as “Alabama style” which only came from Clyde May’s backwoods barrels.

Unfortunately for Mr. May, making moonshine — even the high-quality stuff — is illegal in Alabama. And despite his whiskey’s popularity among the locals of Bullock County and many politicians in Montgomery, Mr. May was sentenced to 18-months in prison through the efforts of a zealous prosecutor. On the day of his release, in 1974, Mr May’s very cell was assumed by the same prosecutor for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. And on the day of his release, Mr. May returned to making moonshine in his hand-crafted small-batch fashion until his death in 1990.

Clyde May

In 2001, Clyde’s son Kenny decided to bring back his daddy’s recipe and began legally distilling the his father’s brand, being true to the same traditions. Shortly after, he began lobbying State Senators in Montgomery to make Clyde May’s the Official Spirit of the State of Alabama. A resolution passed the senate in 2003 only to be vetoed by the governor, but the beloved whiskey, with plenty of support in the halls of the capital, garnered enough support to overturn the governor’s veto. In 2004, the resolution was ratified and signed into law.

Later that same year, Kenny May was arrested for the illegal distribution of the state’s official spirit. He did not serve jail time, but he was barred from the manufacturing and sale of his father’s eponymous whiskey. The rights to the brand were bought and sold, with national production and distribution now in the hands of a Dallas-based company. Kenny, from time to time, represents his father’s brand at trade and whiskey shows.

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Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Alabama Style Whiskey earned the Gold Medal at the WSWA Tasting Competition and the MicroLiquor Spirits Awards in 2012. That same year, Wine Enthusiast gave Alabama’s official state spirit a ranking of 93, calling it “A spry chameleon of a whiskey…from its distinct ripe apple and hazelnut notes…with surprising oomph on the finish.”

How to Drink Clyde May’s Whiskey

While most whiskey enthusiasts of Alabama recommend enjoy their whiskey sipped neat (maybe with a splash of water or a single ice cube), there are inventive ways to effectively incorporate the official spirit into cocktails indigenous to Alabama. Here, from famed Birmingham bartenders Steva Casey and Feizal Valli, are four cocktail recipes. 

The Kindness of Strangers

  • 1.5oz Clyde May’s
  • 1oz Lustau Manzanilla Sherry
  • 1oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 0.5oz Boiled Peanut Orgeat
  • 2 dashes coffee bitters
  • Lambrusco Float

Directions: Shaken. Served long.

Never Love a Wild Thing

  • 1oz Clyde May’s
  • 1oz Cynar
  • 1oz Dubonnet Rouge

Directions: Stirred. Served in glass on an ice sphere.

The Rickwood Classic

  • 1.5 oz Clyde May’s whiskey
  • 0.5 oz Cynar
  • 0.5 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
  • 0.5 oz demera syrup
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Flamed orange peel

Directions: Shaken. Served long.

The Bullock County Revival

  • 1.25 oz Clyde May’s whiskey
  • 0.75 oz Bonal
  • 0.75 fresh orange juice
  • 1 spoon homemade alabama apple jam
  • 2 dashes black walnut bitters

Directions: Stirred. Served in a glass on ice.

Published on Men’s Journal: How Clyde May’s Whiskey Became the Official Spirit of Alabama

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