Home Food & Drink What is the Difference Between Malt Liquor and Beer?

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While just one sip will confirm the fact that malt liquor and beer have considerably different flavors that appeal to distinct taste buds, there are actually other differences that distinguish these two popular alcoholic drinks.

Ingredients
malt-liquor-vs-beerWith its roots tracing back to some (presumably very happy) monks in France in the 1600s, beer usually consists of the main ingredients of barley, hops, brewer’s yeast, and just plain water. Using these raw materials, the brewery mixes and ferments the drink until the characteristic bubbles of the alcohol are well formed.

In the late 1600s, malt liquor came onto the scene in England as a fermented alcoholic beverage. Malt liquor may be created from the same key ingredients as beer, but the recipe includes some additional ingredients including corn, dextrose, and rice.

Taste
In terms of taste, beer is distinctive in its mildly bitter flavors that combine for a smooth taste to swish down. Since it is created with the sweetened flavors of corn, rice, and dextrose, malt liquor is known for its sweet taste with just a hint of spice and a strong alcohol flavor.

Demographics
Being sold in larger bottles, malt liquor is also the less expensive option of the two. Malt liquor is packaged in bottles that are typically 40-ounces, whereas beer is distributed mostly in bottles that are 12-ounces in size. Because of its price, historically, malt liquor has been more commonly associated with the lower socioeconomic segments of the population. In the epic battle of malt liquor vs. beer, some prefer malt liquor for its much cheaper price tag, but most consider malt liquor to be the inferior cousin of beer.

Alcohol Percentage
Besides the sticker price and aesthetics, the other main difference between malt liquor and beer is the amount of alcohol. Most  American brewed “dark” beers have between 3.6 and 3.8 percent alcohol by weight, although “light” beers tend to have a much lower percentage. Heavier “dark” beers that have been brewed in European nations usually consist of around 4.8 percent alcohol by weight. In comparison, malt liquor has a considerably higher content of alcohol. While popular brands like Colt 45 have less than 5.6 percent of alcohol, St. Ides Malt Liquor has 7.3 percent and Camo 5X Malt Liquor has 8.0 percent alcohol. It is not uncommon for malt liquor, lager, or ale to even exceed 12 percent alcohol content by weight.

Fermentation Process
Not only is malt liquor more successful at helping imbibers start feeling a buzz much quicker than beer, the fermentation process between the two alcoholic drinks contains some dissimilar characteristics as well. It is clear that both beer and malt liquor are produced with yeast, the types of brewer’s yeast is the main source of difference during fermentation. With top-fermenting yeast, the yeast will float towards the top and the sugars will be scraped off with it by the brewer. On the other hand, bottom-fermenting yeast will sink to the bottom of the brewing tanks to trap in the sugar content for a sweeter end product. Although beer can be created through either fermentation process depending on the brewery, only bottom-fermenting brewer’s yeast can be used to create a bottle of malt liquor.

Bottoms Up

Despite these very noticeable differences between malt liquor and beer, it is important to realize that these alcoholic drinks are not all that different from one another. After all, the drinks are produced from many of the same exact base ingredients that we know and love. Only within the subtle changes in the fermentation and ingredient process do the differences between malt liquor and beer become more evident.

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