What Is Malt Liquor? Everything You Need To Know

What Is Malt Liquor? Everything You Need To Know

What Is Malt Liquor? Everything You Need To Know

Malt Liquor is a quintessentially American product. A drink that can be found all over the country in gas stations, corner stores, and liquor stores alike. It isn’t often the kind of drink you might bring out at a dinner party with friends, but it might be what you share with close friends getting a deliberate buzz.

We will break down what does malt mean, the differences of malt liquor vs beer, and give some insight into how it has become immersed in American culture. After reading this you’ll definitely be thirsty for a bottle!

What Is Malt?

what is malt

Before fully breaking down how it is made into liquor, we must fully break down what it is. You are probably going to be surprised when you find out what does malt mean. Malt is actually not a product in itself, but more a description of an existing thing. Specifically, malt is a germinated cereal grain that has been dried in a process that is referred to as malting. A germinated seed just refers to when a seed is allowed to soak in water until a small sprout protrudes from the grain.

Malted grains have widespread applications in food and beverage production. Malted grains are used to make whisky, beer, malted milk, Maltesers, Horlicks, malt loaf, bagels, and much more! It is a truly versatile ingredient.

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The most popular malted grain is barley. It has an enzyme content that makes it perfectly suited to the process of malting. Other popular grains that undergo the malting process are wheat, rye, oats, rice, and corn.

How Is It Used In Beer Production? What Are The Differences Between Malt Liquor vs Beer

Differences Between Malt Liquor and Beer

In order to fully understand what is malt liquor, and how it is made, we need to understand beer production. Every grain is considered a carbohydrate as it has a high carbohydrate content. Carbohydrates are essentially natural sugars. These sugars are then converted into energy and produce amino acids that are essential for life as a human.

The role that malt has in beer production, however, is in the fermentation process. Malt provides the sugars that are necessary for the fermentation process to occur. The fermentation process involves yeast converting the sugars into ethanol (alcohol) and CO2. All of this is an in-depth, scientific breakdown of the simple fact that malt is used to create the alcohol in beer.

Malt does also provide some added flavor to beer. The sugars that are released provide some sweetness, oftentimes some bright and zingy flavors as well. 

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Malt Liquor and How It Is Made

how malt liquor is made

Is malt liquor beer? Well no, but the factors we use to distinguish it from beer aren’t particularly obvious. The primary two characteristics of malt liquor are the biggest determinants of the entire production process. Malt liquor is made to be strong and cheap. While commercial lager beers run at an average of 8 proof, malt liquor is roughly 12-18 proof. A bottle of malt liquor will cost around the same as one and a half beers while being around the size of three conventional lagers.

While many beers are made using the more expensive base of barley, malt liquor is made using cheaper ingredients, often either corn or rice. The other strict distinguishing factor between beer and malt liquor is that beer can be top or bottom-fermented, and malt liquor can only be bottom-fermented.

Bottom and top-fermented refers to wherever the yeast sits within the fermentation liquid. Bottom fermentation is when the yeast sits at the bottom and ferments for a long period of time, and top fermentation is the exact opposite.

Malt liquor tends to come in a large, 40 oz glass bottle. This makes it ideal for large gatherings, sharing, and using it as a tool to get drunk. Bottles are commonly sold out in paper bags which are then drunk from.

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Famous Brands

famous brands of malt liquor

There is fairly little nuance when it comes to consuming malt liquor in terms of flavor. They do not really have a complicated or varied flavor profile, so any bottle would technically do the trick for a buzz. However, in a similar vein to lots of other forms of alcohol, people are attached to their favorite variety.

The three most famous brands are probably Mickie’s, Colt 45, and Olde English 800. They are the bottles found most easily across the United States. Mickie’s comes in its iconic green bottle, while Colt 45 has gained fame in a manner that we will get on to in the next section. When asked what is malt liquor, many Americans will often just reference the brand name.

Cultural Presence

cultural presence of malt liquor

A negative side to malt liquor is that it is often seen in lower-income neighborhoods than anywhere else. Places, where everyday life has plenty of obstacles and worries, contain many people just trying to unwind and get by. 40 oz bottles of malt liquor encased in brown paper bags can be found across America in times of calm and times of worry.

One outcome of this is the presence it has found in contemporary culture, mainly music. Hip Hop was born in these lower-income areas of America, and street poets have often written about malt liquor in their recounts of their lives growing up in America. Some truly famous songs are ‘1 million bottlebags’ by Public Enemy, ‘Colt 45’ by Afroman, and ‘40 oz’ by Eminem’s group, D12.