Open up almost any book about whiskey in America and you’re bound to find at least a few tales of moonshiners who worked hard to create a quality product while constantly trying to evade the law.
Some moonshiners were successful, hiding their stills deep in the mountains or woods. Some weren’t so lucky. Clyde May, an Alabama moonshiner who was active from around the 1950s through the 1980s, was not one of the lucky ones. He ended up serving time for moonshining.
This is the story that Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey starts with—a moonshiner whose motto was “It’s better to break a few laws than cut a few corners.” In his time, May handcrafted his own stills and worked with the best ingredients he could find.
Flash forward a few decades and, as a way of honoring his father’s memory, Kenny May created Clyde May’s whiskey, legally producing “Alabama Style” whiskey (a style created by his father and characterized by the addition of oven-dried apples to new barrels of bourbon).
Their latest release, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is not given the “Alabama Style” treatment. Instead, it abides by all the laws that govern bourbon.
Nose: On the front, there are spice and vanilla notes. These are underpinned by oak and a hint of honeyed apples, despite there not being apples added to this whiskey.
Palate: Caramel sweetness blends with dryer oaky notes. These dryer notes make me think of the term “Old School,” though trying to explain that, I admit to being at a loss. Vanilla and a little bit of peanut brittle come through and are followed by a hint of baking spice.
Finish: Medium length and fairly dry. Toffee and peanut notes mix with a little bit of black pepper.
Final Thoughts: Getting back to the idea of story, it takes a little time staring at the highly-stylized (and very aesthetically appealing) bottle to see that the bourbon is not distilled in Alabama, but is instead sourced from Kentucky and bottled by the Conecuh Ridge distillery, which is located in Florida. The idea of it being Alabama whiskey is a fabrication, but one that works to continue the story of the man it is named after. If story does not impact your perception of a spirit and you are merely looking for a good-tasting bourbon (and one, because of its 46% ABV that would do well in a cocktail), then this is a good place to start if you’re looking for a bourbon that’s not “from” Kentucky.
Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey is 46% ABV and retails for around $50.