Beer versus Malt liqours

Does any one know some of the distinct or more technical differences in beer and malt liquors? And not just that one has more alcohol than the other, but brewing method related reasons as well. Thanks.

Well, I don’t know how commercially-produced “malt liquors” do it (frankly, I’m not sure what the difference is besides alcohol content and US laws about what you can label as beer), but in homebrewing, to get a beer with a high alcohol content, you use yeasts that can handle higher alcohol contents and continue to reproduce. I’ve brewed a couple batches of a Belgian wit ale with honey in it that comes out at 9% alcohol by volume; the particular type of yeast is a Belgian ale strain that can handle, IIRC, up to 12% alcohol. If you really want to crank it up, some people end up using certain wine or champagne yeast strains to finish off a fermentation. Using multiple strains of yeast can bring out certain characteristics in your beer (depending on what you intend for the type) while pushing the fermentation as far as it can go.

You also have to provide enough fermentable stuff to convert to alcohol. If you want to do this without having a very malty, high-bodied beer as a result, you can use “adjuncts” like corn, rice, Belgian candi sugar (sucrose in “rock candy”-like form), etc. to ferment and raise the alcohol content without adding more body/“heaviness” to the beer.

Say, you wouldn’t happen to be here in response to this, would you? If not, you should go read it.

FerretHerder, all the high-powered yeast in the world won’t necessarily give you more alcohol unless you give the yeast something to eat. Most high-octane beers (read: malt liquors) come from wort with heavy malt bills.

Malt liquor is a fairly meaningless term used by various regulatory agencies to describe beers over a certain alcohol content. It is not a clearly-delimited style like pilsner or stout, though if one were to try to mimic well-known ones like Schlitz or Mickey’s, the defining characteristics would be “strong” and “nasty”.

There’s a discussion of the terminology on this page.

Huh, so if you want a beer from a major American brewery that isn’t full of corn/rice, you could go with a malt liquor. Very interesting. I added the info about adjuncts and making a lighter-bodied beer because I figured most large American breweries tended to brew that way. I’ve never actually had the malt liquors produced by major US breweries.

I thought that the main difference was that malt liquors didn’t have any hops in them.

Nope! Just higher alcohol content.

Also, just observationally, it seems that malt liquor does not come in 12oz cans or bottles. Mickey’s, Olde English, Crazy Horse, Little Kings etc…all in odd or oversized packaging. All except Spaten.

I’ve seen Olde English 800 in 12oz cans.

I have also heard that, much like “fortified” wine, the alchohol content is raised by simply adding pure alcohol to beer. Voila, a stronger beer!

That is also an “I don’t think so.” It is easier and cheaper to just add some cheap fermentables to the mash bill.

Fun anecdote: A regular part of our brew club meetings were blind tastings. People would bring beers, and the club would taste and evaluate, without knowing who brewed it. This is a good learning tool. One meeting, as the person in charge of the tasting, I brought out, unknown to the club, Old English 800, St. Ives, Colt .45, Mickey’s, etc. They all got great reviews from supposed beer snobs, who thought they were homebrews. It wasn’t until I brought out a pitcher of Colt .45, with its distinct flavor, that some of our members began to smell a rat. It was quite entertaining to watch people who badmouthed malt liquor at every oppurtunity try to justify the fact that they gave **St. Ives ** a 41 out of 50 on the score sheet! :smiley:

That doesn’t make sense. If it was just higher alcohol content then why not call it fortified beer or extra strenght beer or something like that? Zima is a malt liquor but it isn’t higher in alcohol content than beer, I think. Beer is water, malt and hops. Malt liquor is is just water and malt.

If you can show me where I am wrong, I’ll admit it.

I don’t think Zima is a malt liquor, but rather a malt beverage. doesn’t have any information, so someone would need to check this out at a store. A somewhat similar product, Jack Daniel’s Hard cola, is described that way. (Warning. That site is a pain in the ass to use.)

Essentially an extra-strong American Light Lager. Also, in some parts of the US, any beer over a certain strength must legally be called “Malt Liquor”.
Alcoholic beverage produced in the United States. It is made in the same manner as beer, yet it has a much higher alcoholic content. Each state sets the maximum permitted alcohol level with eight degree being the max.

Malt Liquor is an American term for a fairly strong lager. They are generally pale, golden colored, and have a light to medium body. Usually, they are cheaply made and are one of the most popular means for getting quickly and cheaply drunk. Also, Malt Liquor is neither malt tasting nor a liquor.
A lager of high alcohol content; by law it is considered too alcoholic to be sold as lager or beer
As noted, Zima and its ilk are malt beverages, not malt liquors.

The Federal Alcohol Administration Act has specifc requirements for labeling alcoholic beverages including not permitting references to ‘strength’ or alcohol content. This is to avoid ‘strength-wars’ between manufacturers. Coors challenged this and included the argument that some terms, such as malt liquor, have become aliases for strength anyway. Here is a link to the FAAA. Here is a link about the Coors case.

As a notworthy exception to the above rule of thumb, smaller brewers often produce special winter beers, which have a higher alcohol content, and are labeled as malt liquors.

I’m sure we all know that the primary unit of purchase for malt liquor is the 40-ounce bottle. Casually called a “forty”.

In the game Deus Ex, your character can regain health by picking up and consuming various food and drink items found along the way. One of these items is a golden bottle, and when you pick it up the game displays the message, “You found a forty!”

Anyway, what about “ale”? And other “beers” that are labeled “porter” or “stout”. These often have even higher alcohol contents than malt liquor. Are ale, porter and stout not technically beers?

Phase42, ale, porter, and stout are all beers. Just like lager is a beer. Just think of “beer” as being the catch-all name. I’m not sure about how this works with US legal terminology though.

Without some hops it would not taste much like beer. I have never drank a malt liquor, but my understanding is they pretty much taste like a beer.

Has any homebrewer ever forgot to use bittering hops? What does that taste like?

In fact, there are two broad categories of beer. Ale and lager. The difference is the type of yeast and the temperature at which the beer is fermented and conditioned. Ales ferment at about room temperature or a little cooler (68-72 F) whereas lagers ferment at colder temperatures (I think around 50 F). Some homebrewers try to mimic lager flavors by using ales and hops that will yield a light-bodied beer and then cold-condition for a couple of weeks; but technically this is still an ale.

Porter, Stout, and Pale and are some of the more popular sub-varieties of ale (all distinguished by the yeast and type of bittering hops used). Pilsner is a popular sub-type of lager (there are others but I haven’t really studied lagers).

All American macrobreweries brew lagers almost exclusively. Many popular microbrews are ales. There is a sort of progression in the careers of many beer fans (this is completely anecdotal) where the teenager starts out drinking cheap light lagers, eventually moves on to ales and finally back to higher quality lagers. During the middle phase many ale fanatics are highly disparaging of lagers of all types but actually there are many lagers that are full of flavor. I like Warsteiner Premium Vernum but there are probably much better examples.

I meant to say - and finally begins including higher quality lagers in their beer repetoir. I wouldn’t want to say that anyone stops drinking ales! :slight_smile: