Long before any state recognized an official state spirit the U.S. designated an official national spirit.
On May 4, 1964 the United States Congress gathered in Washington, D.C. and by a majority vote passed a concurrent resolution that says, “Bourbon Whiskey is a Distinctive Product of the United States and is unlike other types of alcoholic beverages, whether foreign or domestic.” As a distinct product of the United States, bourbon can be made in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
How Many States have an Official Spirit?
The answer to this question is a bit surprising. Out of all 50 states, there are only two that have an official state spirit. And no, neither Kentucky nor Tennessee is one of them. The two states include Virginia and Alabama.
In 2017 Virginia declared “George Washington having been born in Virginia and father of the nation whose efforts produced a spirit that embodies the spirit of Virginia” they therefore designated George Washington’s Rye Whiskey the official spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill is operated as a part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
What is the Official State Spirit of Alabama?
Prior to Virginia, Alabama was the first state to declare a state spirit back in March 2004. What’s a bit different about this spirit is its actually a brand name from one of the state’s homegrown moonshiners.
The Official State Spirit of Alabama is ‘Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey’
On February 17, 2004, State Representative Alan Boothe introduced House Joint Resolution No. 100 into the Alabama House of Representative. The Resolution was approved by the Alabama House followed by the Senate then sent to the Governor for final passage. The resolution was vetoed by Governor Bob Riley, but by an overwhelming 54-7 vote to override the veto Conecuh Ridge Alabama Whiskey was made the official state spirit.
The full text of HR 100 is included below.
What Exactly is Conecuh Ridge Fine Alabama Whiskey?
To get the inside story on what makes Conecuh Ridge Fine Alabama Whiskey the state spirit, we reached out to Clyde May’s grandson Lewis Clyde ‘LC’ May II who is the National Brand Ambassador for Clyde May’s Whiskey.
It turns out the legislature nominated the whiskey to be the official state spirit not so much for the illicit moonshine but for the character of the man Clyde May himself. May was born September 18, 1922 (Died January 31, 1990) to a single mother. His mother passed away when Clyde was just five years old soon after giving birth to her second son. Clyde was left to be raised by his grandparents.
In 1942, at the age of 21 he enlisted in the army and did two tours overseas. May served with the 77th infantry which was known as the Statue of Liberty Division. While serving as the platoon leader he was wounded and was later awarded the Purple Heart.
Once back in Alabama May turned to farming. To help make ends meet for his wife and family he supplemented his income by making and selling moonshine.
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My Grandfather Never Sold a Legal Bottle in His Life
“My grandfather was a moonshiner,” explained LC. “He never sold a legal bottle in his life. He went to prison for eight months for making whiskey. When you live a life like that, you live a pretty interesting life.
“My grandfather designed a still that we call the ‘Clyde 240‘. He didn’t actually call it that, but we do. Basically, it was not only a rectangular still, but it had a rectangular condenser as well. The reason we call it the Clyde 240 is because back in the 1960s, just the condenser that he was using, the amount of copper it took just to build that one-piece cost $240. If you factor for inflation that’s about $1200 to $1300 in today’s dollars. That’s a pretty big investment to put into something that a Revenuer at any given time could discover and hack it up with an axe he got for $2 at a local hardware store. He was dedicated to his craft and did whatever he had to do to make the best product.
“It’s kind of a unique design. The still itself is a rectangular shape and so was the condenser. The condenser is what makes it unique and connects everything together. The condenser is so big and large that when they used to use it in the woods, they would have to keep it propped up with fence posts to keep it elevated off the ground. Other condensers when you piece it together you can just connect it and its light weight, and it just stays elevated, but this was so heavy it had to be supported.
“What my grandfather was doing, the vast majority of what he sold in his lifetime was unaged white lighting moonshine. He was a moonshiner so the majority of what he sold was moonshine. He actually took the time to age a lot of his moonshine into whiskey which was something that not a lot of moonshiners did because when you age something and you let it sit there, you are sitting on 53 gallons of evidence. He never had anything formal like a rickhouse with 20 barrels. He would age one barrel at a time, and he would age it for about a year because that’s all he could afford. He did have a gentleman who was able to obtain 53-gallon charred oak barrels, so it was never an orphan barrel, he never used mini-barrels. It was one barrel at a time.
“Early on, this was a project that he started to give to his best moonshine customers as a gift to say, ‘Thanks for your business this year.’ The first few times he did it he was not pleased with the finished product. It had not aged long enough, it kind of had a rough finish, and a little too much burn. He decided that he would start experimenting with different finishes to help soften the burn while also maybe assisting with a little of that charred color. If it only sits in the barrel for a year, it doesn’t have that nice dark amber color that we see on bourbon today.
“It was through that trial-and-error process, it wasn’t something he discovered on the first go round, he tried many things. It was through that trial-and-error process that he discovered adding a ‘hint’ of oven dried apple slices. They were apple slices that he would put in the oven, and he would actually turn on the broiler to get them good and toasty. Then he would put them into the 53-gallon barrel of what was equal to about two handfuls of oven dried apple slices, and he would let them sit in there for about a day.
“It would do two things; it would help assist with the color because of that charred apple crisp would help to darken the whisky a little bit. But his main goal was to give it something to help soften the burn a little bit which is why we say, ‘It’s not a flavored whiskey, it’s a whiskey with flavor, it’s for finish.’
“He was actually anti-flavoring. He was a believer if you do a good enough job with the whiskey you are distilling, you don’t have to disguise it by over flavoring it. That was his philosophy. He just wanted a nice subtle finish.
“It became so popular, he gave it out, and once he was pleased with the product, he gave it to his best customers, and you know how word travels, and people started saying, ‘Hey Clyde, I would like to buy some of your Christmas Whiskey’ because he gave it away around Christmas.
“So, it became a product he started doing to actually sell. Even then, he could only afford to do it one barrel at a time. He only did it as single barrels.”
What’s Going On with Clyde May’s Whiskey Brand Today?
LCs uncle, Kenny May started selling Clyde May’s whiskey legally in 2001. The brand was eventually sold to Conecuh Brands in 2016 and is now sold in all 50 states. Conecuh along with LC as the Brand ambassador just celebrated the groundbreaking of a new Conecuh Ridge Distillery to be built in Troy, Alabama about 18 miles from Clyde May’s home. The $18 million project is being built on 76 acres and is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2023.
House Joint Resolution, HJR100
Designating Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey
The Official State Spirit of Alabama
WHEREAS, after serving his country with pride and patriotism during World War II, Clyde May returned home from the jungles of the South Pacific to his home in Bullock County, Alabama, and focused his attention on making a finely crafted bourbon, Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey; and WHEREAS, the resulting 9O proof bourbon was Mr. May's "special Christmas whiskey," which was fashioned from a carefully guarded secret recipe, aged to perfection in charred oak barrels to a caramel amber hue, made from only the finest ingredients, and given to family and friends as a cherished token of his warmth and tireless devotion to his newly found craft; and WHEREAS, Mr. May‘s son, Kenny May, has continued the family legacy by producing a small batch of hand—crafted bourbon based on the same techniques, standards, and recipes that his father used; and WHEREAS, the bourbon, Conecuh Ridge, is produced using pure Alabama water and embodies family pride, independence, entrepreneurial drive, innovation, and respect for the tradition and craftsmanship which is evident in this family tradition; now therefore, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we hereby designate Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey as Alabama's Official State Spirit and direct that a copy of this resolution be provided as a memento of this designation by the Alabama Legislature. Senate O9—MAR—O4 Adopted
And finally, “How Do You Pronounce Conecuh”?
Conecuh is pronounced, Cah-NECK-ah.