Hoppin’ good time: Slapout Brewing Company draws crowds at Coosapalooza

Cliff Williams / The Herald

Clay Cleghorn draws up a beer at the Slapout Brewing Company tent at Coosapalooza Saturday.

Clay Cleghorn and Slapout Brewing Company stole the show at Saturday’s Coosapalooza Brewfest in Wetumpka.

Crowds gathered around Cleghorn’s tent as if it were a speakeasy that might not be around for long with lines forming to taste one of his five beers.

“This is mind-blowing,” Cleghorn said. “Are there this many people at other booths?”

Maybe the crowds were there because a beer lover can’t find Slapout Brewing Company anywhere, as Cleghorn doesn’t have a commercial brewery license to sell his homebrew. However, those from Wetumpka or Lake Jordan may have heard of it.

“I can’t legally sell it,” Cleghorn said while filling another sample Saturday. “I do drawdowns for charity and stuff like that. I donate everything. I drink all I can and give away the rest. It is like Blue Bell ice cream.”

Cleghorn’s pedigree in brewing beer started in Louisiana as a teenager.

“From 13 to 22 I was in Baton Rouge,” he said. “I figured if I could clone a Budweiser, I would be the coolest kid on the block.”

Cleghorn said his mother worked at Louisiana State University’s veterinary school and he got his introduction to homebrew after President Jimmy Carter allowed it.

“I was surrounded by those students,” Cleghorn said. “All the vet school students were brewing. I used my lawnmowing money and bought my kits. They taught me how to make beer. I made some good beer and I made some crap beer.”

Things were going well for the young Cleghorn until a little accident put a halt to his homebrewing for several decades.

“It was not all great stuff then,” Cleghorn said. “It was syrup in a can with a few hops. You brew the stuff and put it in a bottle and hope it didn’t explode. Some blew up one night in my mom’s linen closet. I had some extra sugar in the bottles. That was the end of that. I sold my carboys, capper and other stuff to help offset the cost, as I had to replace my mom’s sheets.”

After raising a family in Elmore County for the most part, Cleghorn returned to homebrew on Lake Jordan.

“I got back into it in 2013 in our cabin in Slapout,” he said while asking what another Coosapaloozer would like to try. “I realized how much I love it. I was like wow, this is my passion.”

His beers are named after places and people associated with Elmore County  — Coosa Ale, Swayback Blonde, Boathouse Honey, The Long Paddle and 2Ski’s Pale Ale. The Swayback was the first beer Cleghorn produced in large batches and still does. 2Ski’s Pale Ale is named after Dave and Christian Kowalski, residents on Lake Jordan whom Cleghorn has fallen in love with.

“It was a pretty good beer so I said, ‘Let’s see if I can duplicate it,’” Cleghorn said. “(Dave Kowalski) came over one Sunday and was drinking what I had on tap. He asked, ‘What are you going to call it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you call it 2Ski’s?’ So there it is.”

Cleghorn said Kowalski is a great spokesperson for the pale ale named after him.

“He pushes that beer,” Cleghorn said. “He is a veteran and will strike up conversations with other veterans. He is a great guy.”

Cleghorn said Kowalski’s wife is great too.

“I call her my lake mom,” Cleghorn laughed while sipping his product. “I leave their place after dark and she says, ‘Call me when you get home.’ I will be tying the boat up and she is already checking on me. They are family — lake family and beer family. It is all good.”

Brewing at Lake Jordan is no longer happening after Cleghorn enlarged his operation to the largest he could legally as a homebrewer.

“I morphed into the 10-gallon batches at the cabin at the lake,” he said. “It takes huge containers to do that. The cabin is about 800 square feet. My wife showed up in the spring and said, ‘Oh no, this has got to go.’ That is when I cleared out half the garage and that is where the brewery is now.”

Cleghorn has worked in manufacturing for the last 24 years, putting in 500-hour weeks and also managing the concessions at his children’s school, but finds time to brew beer.

“Sunday after church is my brew day,” Cleghorn said. “I don’t care whose birthday it is. It could be Grandma’s. I don’t care. I’m in the garage brewing. I hope my love for it shows.”

The second annual Coosapalooza benefited Main Street Wetumpka and featured nearly 40 different legal breweries and Slapout Brewing Company. The crowd thinned around Cleghorn’s tent after the Slapout Brewing Company ran slap out of beer, something Cleghorn’s wife Laine was fine with. She was managing the sale of T-shirts, pint glasses and koozies all with the Slapout Brewing Company logo.

“I want them to be dying to buy our beer,” she said.

Selling his beer legally is something Cleghorn hopes to make a reality in the next few years after retiring and expanding to a seven-barrel system allowing the brewmaster to make beer 220 gallons at a time. He also wants to stay near his brewing roots and mix it with something else.

“I love cooking too,” he said. “It is my second love. I would love to open a place in downtown Wetumpka. A place you can stop at after fishing or a paddle down the Coosa. Wouldn’t a catfish po’boy good with this beer?”