Clyde May’s Whiskey Still Shines

12/13/2017

Clyde Mays Product Line

Providing for a family in rural Alabama has never been easy, as a young Clyde May learned after returning home from World War II. Like many of his contemporaries, May turned to a time-honored Alabama tradition to make ends meet: moonshine. Distilling and selling untaxed whiskey was big business, with dozens, if not hundreds, of moonshiners operating under the noses of law enforcement. It was a crowded marketplace, and one fraught with threats to life, limb and liberty. 

 

But over the course of decades as a distiller, Clyde May managed to thrive, differentiating his product from his bootlegging competitors and eventually going “legit,” becoming the official distilled spirit of the State of Alabama, with plans to open a large, fully legal distillery within the state for the first time ever.

 

LC Mays Clyde Mays Ambassador The man himself, Clyde May, is steeped in legends, which no doubt adds to the appeal of the whiskey. However, it is more than just myths and good fortune that has turned this outlaw distillery into a beloved brand that has united three generations of the May family in a common pursuit of great whiskey. Today, the youngest member of the family to join the Clyde May team, LC May, is now an ambassador for the brand his grandfather built and his uncle revived. “When I started with this brand,” said May recently, “my number one goal was keeping the story alive, the blood, sweat and tears that went behind this process and what this family's gone through to get it where it is today.”

 

“Obviously I care about the whiskey and I'm a whiskey advocate,” he added, “however I think it's equally as important for people to understand what went into that whiskey and to understand that you have to know who Clyde May was, why he did make whiskey.” According to May, “he had a rough childhood … growing up poor and going to bed a lot of times hungry at night. That motivated him to want to provide a better life for his family.” 

 

May said his grandfather always had a full-time job in addition to moonshining. His work ethic was key to making Alabama-style whiskey (aka moonshine) that dominated the market and the imaginations of whiskey lovers throughout the state.

 

Alabama-style whiskey is not always an easy product to sell. LC says “it's got a high alcohol volume, so naturally it's not very smooth going down.” To make his product more palatable, and to stand out from his competitors, Clyde experimented with different distilling techniques and aged his whiskey longer than others in the market.

 

“It was with trial and error,” explains LC. “He didn't just wake up and have an epiphany and just discover the secret to making smoother whiskey. It was with trial and error, which is a testament to his dedication.” And that dedication paid off with an unexpected discovery: dried apple slices. “He finally discovered that taking apple slices, placing them in the oven until they were a golden brown, and placing them in the barrel at the very end of the aging process made the whiskey smoother” without imparting an apple flavor to the batch. According LC, his grandfather’s whiskey philosophy was, "I'm dedicating my time to make a high-quality whiskey, I'm not gonna ruin it by making it an apple pie moonshine or apple pie whiskey."

 

And it was not just his time that Clyde was dedicating to the pursuit of whiskey. Working on illicit stills meant a constant threat from fires, explosions, accidental poisoning and the ever-vigilant federal investigators who sought to uncover and disrupt operations just like May’s. According to LC, his grandfather had between 50 to 75 stills destroyed from 1946 to 1990. But he always rebuilt and continued the work.

 

Today the work will continue at a brand new, fully legal distillery and visitors’ center in Troy, Alabama, just down the road from the woods where Clyde started his career as a moonshiner in the springs of Conecuh Ridge. This expansion is only possible recently, according to LC, as Alabama has long prohibited distilling in the state. “My uncle started this brand in the early 2000s, about 10 years after my grandfather died. He tried very hard to get distilling legalized in Alabama but they just wouldn't do it. Now, they named it the official state spirit of Alabama, which is great, but it was still illegal to distill it in the state.” The new Clyde May’s distillery is going to be a destination, said LC. “It's gonna be on about 80 acres of land. It's gonna have a distillery, rack houses, bottling plant, restaurant, visiting center. It's gonna be just like you see on the Bourbon Trail.”

 

What would Clyde think about his brand going mainstream? “To be honest there's been a lot of talk between family about ‘What would Clyde think,’” said LC. “Now that he's gone, I would like to think that he'd be very proud to see the hard work he put into his whiskey pay off, growing into what it is today and what it's going to be. I think he would be proud of that.”

 

“He worked his whole entire life, I mean from sunup to way past sundown, every single day. There was never an excuse to skip work if you were sick, if you were hurt, it didn't matter. You went to work, period. And I certainly try my hardest to.” LC pauses, then says, “The whiskey speaks for itself. You know, you taste the whiskey and you're like, ‘Wow, this is a great whiskey,’ and that's a testament to how hard he worked. Now it's my job as the grandson and the brand ambassador to let people know here's what he went through to make that great whiskey that you're drinking legally today.”

 

LC concluded by saying “I think more so than any other brand, people can drink Clyde May's whiskey and know who Clyde May was, as a blue collar man, how he represents Alabama and how he worked but never got the recognition he deserved, like many people. I think people will grab onto that and when they take a sip of Clyde May's whiskey they're gonna say, ‘This is Alabama.’ I mean that's pretty much it.”

Read Next Article See all Group news