Updated December 12, 2017
By Father John Rayls
Clyde May was a World War II veteran with a penchant for whiskey, one who won a Purple Heart and some would suggest a genuine war hero. His home was in the Conecuh Ridge area of Alabama. He was a true craftsman, but made his living as a moonshiner who even spent eight months behind bars courtesy of the Federal government for plying his trade.* Legend has it that he built a new still the very day he was released.
May experimented repeatedly to find the flavor that eventually became known as “the Alabama style”. This process involved adding dried apples into the aging barrels, which gave it a smooth and unique flavor. This was the style that his son Kenny campaigned to have recognized by the State of Alabama as its official state spirit, although the brand itself is in the hands of a Dallas-based company.
This version of “Alabama whiskey” is a very small batch creation comprised of 55% corn, 30% rye and 15% barley and aged for up to six years in heavily toasted American oak barrels. Apple juice is used to influence the whiskey, and it is bottled at 110 proof.
The liquid has a deep coppery color with tints of red and brown. In the glass, some golden hues are highlighted as well. The viscosity is high, giving the appearance of long legs that reluctantly slide down the glass.
The nose is inviting and leads directly to the flavor. It’s not subtle, but is surprisingly absent of any alcohol burn. There is a warm caramel and vanilla base aroma. This is mixed with some new leather with light apple and cinnamon aromas on top.
There is a lush coating of the mouth and tongue as the flavor begins to kick into action. It is a whole mouth experience with bursts of caramel and butterscotch with light apple overtones. Imagine a rich butterscotch candy mixed with a lavish caramel candy without being overtly sweet. It is a smooth experience, but does pack a bit of a punch. It is a very surprising whiskey that somehow pulls off what might otherwise be dismissed as a gimmick. As the Dad in the movie “Joe Dirt” says: “How does a rainbow work? It just does!” The finish is long and filled with recurring waves of semi-sweet spice. I prefer this whiskey neat, but there’s plenty of room should you choose to add some water or an ice cube.
Clyde May’s Special Reserve 110 Proof is a significant step up from the standard Clyde May’s Whiskey. It’s certainly strong enough to get your attention, but it remains a smooth sipping whiskey. I would highly recommend this whiskey for any tasting party as it is a unique experience.
It retails for around $69.95, but can often be found slightly discounted from that price point.
* Coincidentally, May’s cell was occupied after his release by the very same Federal prosecutor that put him there, jailed for involvement in Watergate.
* Correction: This article erroneously stated Clyde May won the Medal of Honor. Upon receiving the comment below, we checked against the list of Medal of Honor recipients from World War Two and found Clyde May was not among them.