What the heck is a "Malt Beverage"

Zima, Bicardi Silver, Mike’s, etc. are all labeled as a “malt beverage”. What the heck is a Malt beverage? What’s the similarity with Beer?

IIRC Beer has to meet certain characteristics to be called beer. Malt beverage is a catch all for all that don’t qualify

malt beverages are all the rage right now, because of how cheap malt liquor is to manufacturers. used to be wine-based, but malt is cheaper.


It’s Zima or one of those beverages that says on the bottle: “Malt Bevarage. Beer in Texas.”

I guess Texas has some state law that requires malt alcohol-based drinks to be called “beer.” This casues me a bit of a pause because I don’t drink beer but do drink Zima and coolers. I guess as long as I don’t drink these in Texas, I’m ok!

so do “malt beverages” still apply to the 21 age rule or do they have a low enough alcohol content that they can legally be purchased by those younger than 21?

“Malt beverages” are the new incarnation of “wine coolers”, which have nothing to do with actual wine. They are made from grains, just like beer, then rendered flavorless and artficially flavored and sweetened.

Because of this, they can be sold in places where beer is sold but wine is not, such as grocery and convenience stores in Kentucky.

Dr. J

Not only does the drinking age still apply, many “malt beverages” have the same, if not more alcohol in them than beer.

“Zima” for example, contains 4.6% alcohol by volume. Most regular beers have Between 4.3 to 5% alcohol. So Zima is on parr with most beer when it comes to alcohol.

Then why is it so regarded as being wussy crap? :slight_smile:

It (Zima, etc.) is thought to be “wussy” as it doesn’t fit the beer traditions of this country (USA). It is in the beer class alcohol wise, but it doesn’t taste or look like beer, so traditionial drinkers think of it as an evasion. I suppose our British bretheren might feel the same way about a shandy; a sort of “girlie drink”?

I reckon the thought is that if it you can’t take the taste of alcohol, then you ought not to be drinking. It’s the same vein that thinks “real drinkers” drink their booze unmixed, whereas the wussies have to disguise the taste with juices and added flavors.

Here’s Cecil’s column on What’s the deal with “ice beer”?

The ATF defines malt beverage as

By this definition, all beers are malt beverages, but not all malt beverages are beers.

I have a good friend who works at Miller Brewing here in Milwaukee and this subject came up at his daughter’s high school graduation party this past weekend.

He, of course, provided lots of Miller products for general consumption. Their new malt beverages (Skyy Blue, Citron, and Diablo) were all very popular with us attendees.

Both Skyy and Citron are vodka based, and Diablo is Tequila based, but if you look at the labels, all it says is that it’s a “malt beverage”. (Except for the early Skyy labels which said it contained vodka… Miller has since removed that statement from the label).

When asked about the malt content versus the alcohol content (which is delivered to Miller in big tanker trucks, in a concentrated form), he said he couldn’t say. Not that he didn’t know, but that he couldn’t say. He did say that “there is no law that says how much malt has to be in a beverage for it to be labeled a malt beverage.” I interpreted that to mean that for all practical purposes there is very little malt involved. He refused to confirm my interpretation, but with a grin he said that “you can come to whatever conclusion you come to.”

To me, Skyy tastes like Sprite, Citron tastes like 50/50 or Fresca, and Diablo tastes like a weak margarita. In other words, they go down smooth and fast in hot weather. They’re quite refreshing. Not beer of course, but they’re not intended to be.

When asked why Miller is branching out into these so-called malt beverages, he said (not surprisingly) that it all revolves around money. The vodka and tequila suppliers pay Miller a lot of money to do this, and it expands the Miller product line.

Why would the suppliers pay Miller a lot of money to do this? Well, Miller has a great distribution network that can handle huge volumes of product, which the hard liquor distillers don’t have. Also, the taxes on a malt beverage are substantially less than for hard liquor. And, malt beverages can be advertised on television, which is not possible for hard liquor. This all works to the advantage of both the distiller and Miller. A true capitalistic win-win.

I was attending a craft brewer’s convention around the time that Zima was introduced. It’s made similar to beer except it has no added hops. After it’s fermented they filter out all the color and all the taste (yes, it’s possible) and end up with clear, tasteless beer. Then they can add any flavoring they want back into it before it’s bottled. I doubt that there’s any real vodka or tequila in any of the “malt beverages”. I can’t give a cite but these brewers are in the business of MAKING alcohol. Why would they buy it from someone else ? I think it’s all marketing crap just using the names like Bacardi, etc., to jack up the price of “beer”.

Texas must have some funny naming laws for beer. I was looking at the bottom of a Bud Ice 6 pack carrier the other day and it said “Ale in Texas”.

Read about Zima…

Algernon has a very informative post up there, though there’s one thing about these malt drinks that’s been left out.

Namely the oh-so-close resemblence of their labels to the labels of full-proof alcoholic beverages. Keeps the image familiar, like a Coke can.

Rope in the youngsters early, through the sweet drinks, then slam them later in life with the hard stuff.

For that matter, and I don’t mean to hijack, but why on earth was algernon’s friend supplying alcohol to his daughter’s high school graduation party?

I think there might be some truth to postcards’ first observation.

Regarding the second concern, I can assure you that all the alcohol was consumed by the parents. Our circle of friends is actually a pretty strict group and in no way would accept, much less condone, any underage drinking. I’m not sure about everyone else’s experiences, but around here, the high school graduation parties have far more adults than students.

I also have to confess that I can’t reconcile my friend’s statement about there being no law stating how much malt is in a malt beverage, and bibliophage’s cite.

Two options come to mind. My friend could be wrong (although he’s quite involved with the creation of these products), or the cite talks about the brewing process rather than the end product.

I’ll have to ask him.

My guess is that the companies (like Miller, etc) want people to think that there is really hard alcohol in the drinks, rather than the actual mutant beer that is really in there. Why buy a wine cooler or Bacardi drink if all you are getting is Zima?

Confusion as to the actual contents works to the brewers favor. My guess is that all the alcohol in those drinks comes straight from the malt. If it was otherwise I think they’d run afoul of the state hard liquor sales laws.

My friend was pretty clear in his assertion that the tanker trucks that delivered product from the distillers contained concentrated liquid of a “very high alcohol content” (even though they refer to the contents as “flavoring”), and that the alcohol from the malt brewing was minimal.

It appears to me that they avoid running afoul of the law by the mere fact that it’s technically (and therefore legally) a malt beverage, and that attribution is supported by the fact that there is no labeling regarding its hard liquor content.

I happen to work at a liquor store and talked to both the salesman and truck drivers. Because I’ve worked there for a little while, I’ve gradually seen Mike’s and Sublime hard lemonade as the main malt beverages be joined by Skyy, Captain Morgan’s, Vibe, Smirnoff, Barcardi, Diablo, etc. The reasons for this are actually pretty simple 1)money, 2)appeal to more people. During the spring/summer months, people drink a lot more beer, which tends to dehydrate you. As they look for a new alternative, they find the new malt beverages. While they don’t do anything to keep you hydrated, they are something new to try, especially if you’ve also been drinking their vodka, rum, tequila, etc., which share the brand name. The second reason is that a majority of women and young drinkers(also underage drinkers) prefer the taste of the beverages to beer. Wine coolers are no longer made with wine and are made of the same malt, so they share a similar flavor, although with just a little more alcohol. Although they are predicted to sell pretty well during the summer, expect to see a lot of these go under or die down come winter.

From the A-B page:

Note the phrase “the flavors of Bacardi rum”.

From an article here: http://www.flymagazine.net/york/york_featurestory.htm

And from this article: http://www.augustachronicle.com/stories/050902/fea_211-5399.000.shtml

A google search turned up a bunch more articles confirming the same thing. I don’t know what your friend is trying to say, but there isn’t any distilled alcohol in those drinks.

I bought some SKYY when we had guest one weekend. I took one sip and spit it out. I detected a strong taste of vodka, and I hate vodka. I knew it had vodka in it, but I didn’t think the flavor of it would be so strong. It wasn’t that strong alcohol wise, just flavor wise. Vodka! Blech!