Why is it when they come out with a low alcohol drink, it is always a malt beverage. Hard lemonade is a malt beverage. Hard cranberry cocktail is a malt beverage. Champale is a malt beverage. The only notable exception to this seems to be hard apple cider. Why don’t they just, for example, add yeast to lemonade to make hard lemonade?
Flavored malt beverages exploit loopholes in tax codes. As such, they get taxed (in California) a a rate of something like 20¢ per gallon, rather than around $3.50 per gallon for distilled spirits or “any dilutions or mixtures thereof” - meaning if they put a wee bit of vodka into lemonade, the stuff would be taxed at the distilled sprits rate.
Also in some states there are different licenses required to sell distilled beverages vs. brewed beverages. If these drinks get their alcohol from brewing they may be sold in more places, such as convenience stores and gas stations.
But the OP is asking why the beverages are brewed from malt which implies a grain base, as opposed to being brewed from the sugars already present in the base beverage. None of the answers given so far explain this, but my WAG is that it’s hard to get consistently good results by brewing random juices.
I think you need to ask the OP to clarify that. I have noticed that American packaging often identifies alcoholic drinks as “malt beverages,” even when Canadian and Japanese labels of the same product do not.
Actually, you can ferment cranberry-based juices. We do it all the time. Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry makes for a killer punch we call Old Leg-Loosener. Just remove a cup or two of the juice, add a cup of sugar and some brewing yeast, loosely cap and let sit in a warm place for a few days. Instant hooch.
The above is in no way an encouragement for people who are legally not allowed to possess alcoholic beverages to do so.
I think they must require different licenses in some places. I was in a small town in Tennessee last weekend. The supermarket there had an entire aisle of beers and malt beverages, but not a single bottle of wine.
We usually just leave the sludge at the bottom of the jug. You only lose 1/2 cup or so if you pour carefully. We generally use dry brewer’s yeast, available at any homebrew supply store, and plain cane sugar. Get the cheapest yeast you can find, because all that acid and flavor will ruin subtle flavors. You could also use wine yeast. An airlock on the cap is an even better way of doing it, but I was just outlining the basics. You will discover that your first batch is rather dry, because the yeast ate up most of the sugar. You can adjust the sweetness by either adding more sugar (do not cap tightly if you do) or adding Sweet 'n Low or the like to taste. It makes a great summer cooler over ice, and is dirt cheap if you use generic Cran-juice as a base.
You can brew with a lot of different sugars…the only thing I’ve never seen is citrus fermentation.
The reason why these beverages have malt in them is because they have to. As previously mentioned, beer is taxed at a much lower rate than spirits. Legally, beer is defined as a “malt-based beverage”, and from there it doesn’t matter if it’s fortified a bit, so that’s how beverages with Bacardi, Smirnoff, etc., can fall into the category. In other words, it’s a tax loophole.