Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cocktail Adventures on the Alabama Coast

We've just arrived back in Chicago after a few days of R&R on the Alabama/Florida coast, in the Perdido Key-Orange Beach area, which is sometimes affectionately called part of the Redneck Riviera.

My parents were trying their hand at snowbirding, as were most of the other people we saw. None of the towns in that area are very large, and they were all pretty sleepy this time of year. We still had a great time, but it was pretty rough finding a decent cocktail in those parts.

In Search of...
unately we came up short in finding a great cocktail, but we found some fun bars, tried one new spirit, and met some great people along the way. Here's a brief sampling of our exploits.

We had high hopes for our first stop, as it bills itself as the "best cocktail bar in the area" with an award-winning drink menu. I'm not going to name it because of what I'm about to show you. The menu was virtually all vodka and rum drinks, and about 98% of them would have been very sweet. With nary a bottle of vermouth or bitters in sight, we decided to go back to basics and ordered straight bourbon. I ordered mine "neat," and the hubby ordered his "straight." The photo at left is what we got. So we played a game of pool and moved on to the next bar.

The K
We had passed this bar a few times on the road, and it looked kind
of interesting. It's definitely the kind of place where you order a simple drink and hang out, which is exactly what we did (and we got what we expected). They had pool and a great jukebox, and the bartender, Rick, was a lot of fun. A classic old-man bar, and we stayed awhile.

Our Cigar Bar at the Wharf
This is the only place in Orange Beach where you can still smoke inside (and boy do the folks at the other bars wonder how exactly they got the city government folks to allow it). We're not big smokers, but we thought we ought to check it out based on how everyone else was talking about the place. So we had a cocktail and shared a cigar (when in Rome...). As before, simple seemed to be best way to go with the drinks, and we got exactly what we ordered. The folks were very nice, and the cigar expert, Zeke, helped us pick out a great one.

Conecuh Ridge Whiskey
The only thing we saw on our trip that we hadn't seen before was Clyde May's Conecuh Ridge Whiskey. It claims to be "Alabama Style Whiskey" and made from an old moonshine recipe developed by Clyde May. a legendary local bootlegger who sold his homemade hooch for decades, before eventually going to jail for it.

The whiskey had a strong maple aroma, and a lingering maple syrup flavor - it was sweeter than I expected (and than I prefer). It has a bit of spice, but is a bit simpler and lighter than my preferred bourbons or whiskeys.

I researched the whiskey a bit when I got back here, and it has an interesting history. It was introduced legally by Kenny May, the son of Clyde May, following his father's recipe. However, it is made in Kentucky using a corn/rye/barley mash rather than the corn/sugar blend that Clyde May was reputed to use. In 2004, the Alabama legislature overrode the governor's veto and named it the official whiskey of the state in 2004 (and it still has that designation). This lit up a firestorm of controversy about the company and brand. In late 2004, Kenny May got in trouble with the law (for selling liquor without a license) - here's the company's take on that. So the May family is no longer involved with the whiskey, and it seems like it hasn't been going too well since then - the company filed for Chapter 11 last year and the case is pending. Wikipedia says there is a shareholder derivative suit pending also.

So we struck out in finding a great cocktail, but we found some fun bars and some interesting liquor history.

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