What Is Malt Liquor?

Few people outside of America have access to malt liquor or, if they do, they know it under another name. Still, this type of alcohol is very well known to us of an American persuasion, and it is something that we equally adore and are disgusted by. 

The surrounding stigmas are great, but most of us will not say no to it, especially on a weekend late in the month, when money is low and the party still continues.

What Is Malt Liquor

Nothing keeps you going at those times that a gigantic bottle of malt liquor, though your brain will hate you the next morning. 

But in your stupor, you may pause for thought for a second to consider what you are putting into your body.

I mean, we know that malt liquor is alcohol, but what exactly goes into the bottle? Is it a spirit? A beer? An ale? Not many, who drink the sweet nectar, really consider what exactly is going into their body. 

Well, today we answer this question and seek to tell you exactly what is malt liquor. 

What Is Malt Liquor?

Malt liquor is actually just beer, however there are some differences between the two.

For starters, the biggest difference is actually the alcohol content. In a standard lager, the alcohol content is 3-4% and only goes slightly above that on a couple of occasions, but in malt liquor it is much higher. 

Malt beverages have an alcohol content that tends to be 20% higher than standard lager, so it normally has an alcohol content of about 5 to 9% or at least it was previously. Nowadays, you could easily find a malt liquor that could easily have an alcohol percentage in the double digits. 

The second difference is really what changes beer into malt liquor, and that is the addition of adjuncts or starches. Ingredients like corn, sugar, and rice are added to the malted barley that is being turned into beer.

Enzymes break down the sugars and starches in this mixture and because of the addition of the adjuncts, many more sugars and starches are broken down into fodder. 

The yeast then consumes this fodder and because there is more than lager, more alcohol is produced, creating a product with a higher alcohol content with no more flavor added. In the end, these differences are enough to create an entirely new type of beer. 

History And Origin

Even though it is most popular in America, malt style beverages actually started in the UK. The first mention of malt liquor in a document was in 1690 in England and, in the document, the phrase was used in reference to both beer and ale. 

After this, it gained a couple more mentions in English documentation, but the first mention in North America was in 1842. At that time, a patent was issued in Canada by the Canadian government to a Mr G. Riley.

This patent was for the improved brewing of several types of alcoholic beverages, but importantly at the end mentions the brewing of ‘maltliquors’. 

However, it wasn’t until 1942, that the first official brand of malt liquor was produced in America itself. This brand was Clix, which was made by the Grand Valley Brewing Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They chose the name due to the nickname of the owner being ‘Click’.

Due to the stigmas surrounding malt beverages in America today, it still does not sell that well.

These stigmas are largely to do with it being an inexpensive alcoholic beverage and the fact that the advertising campaigns for a lot of these beverages are focused on the potency of the drink and how effective it is at making people lose their inhibitions.

While this appeals to most young people who have recently come of drinking age, this does not endear itself to older generations. 

Brands Of Malt Liquor At Home And Abroad

Brands Of Malt Liquor At Home And Abroad

There are quite a few brands of Malt Liquor, especially in the US and Canada, where it really took off as a product.

The most famous of these brands are Schlitz, Mickeys, and Colt 45, with Mickeys especially having their name associated with the beverage itself – if you have even heard of something referring to ‘getting a Mickey of beer’ they are talking about getting some kind of malt liquor. 

However, malt liquor never really took off outside its home in North America, despite originally being created by European settlers. Part of the reason is how they are made. This is mainly because of the ingredients used. In America, malt liquor is made as cheaply as possible.

This means that cheaper adjuncts, like corn instead of wheat or rice, are used, and fewer hops are added, reducing flavor, when making malt liquor. 

Due to long and proud traditions of brewing in European nations and a loyalty to certain brands, malt liquors either struggle in European markets or are not present at all, at least not in the form that Americans know them. Europe, instead, has super strong lagers. 

In the UK, these would be the brand’s Tennent’s Super and Carlsberg Special Brew, in France any beer labeled bières fortes would be a malt liquor equivalent, and in Germany it would be any beer labeled Double Bock.

These beers are very similar to malt liquors of America with the difference being in the ingredients used as mentioned earlier. 

The alcoholic content of some European brands far exceeds those of America, for example Tennent’s Super has an alcoholic content of 9% and there are others that are much higher. 


Malt liquor is truly an American drink. Although it was invented elsewhere and brought over by settlers, it is truly American in its marketing, taste, and location.

While many other places have signature alcoholic drinks, malt liquor is one of the few that defines American beverages and if you plan to get a 40-ounce bottle of something people in the states know you are talking about drinking the old malt rather than getting a regular beer.  

Robert Kaser
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