I love a good beer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot, sunny day or a cold, windy night, I can always find a beer that will either refresh or comfort me. Back when I was in college and broke, I was also known to drink a malt liquor or two. Malt liquor, as I remember it, is a beverage that often comes in a 40 ounce bottle. It’s cheap and tastes kind of nasty, but gets you drunk quickly, which is why it was popular on the rural college campus where I went to school. Happily, those days are behind me as my income has grown and my taste buds have grown more sophisticated. On the other hand, maybe I’m just being a snob about this whole malt liquor vs. beer thing. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two…
In the United States, beer is defined as a malt beverage with an alcohol by volume percentage of less than five percent. Malt liquor is a malt beverage with an alcohol by volume percentage of more than five percent. In fact, a malt liquor can have an alcohol by volume percentage as high as twelve percent.
Aside from that, the difference between beer and malt liquor is also in the way that the beverages is made. Both beer and malt liquor are made with what’s called a wort. A wort is the brewed mixture of malt, some type of cereal grain like corn, rice, or barley, hops, and water. The wort must be fermented by yeast at either the top or the bottom of a tank. Beers can be made through either a top or bottom fermentation process. Malt liquors, on the other hand, are only made with a bottom fermentating process. Malt liquors are also usually made with corn or some other type of sugar, which causes them to have more alcohol content.
Many beers tend to have a milder, smoother flavor than malt liquors do. Malt liquors, by contrast, are often sweeter or spicier and have more of a cloying quality.
Malt liquors are often thought of as low class beverages drunk by bums and frat boys who are hoping to get loaded quickly. However, while many malt liquors are, in fact, cheap and vile tasting, some truly “graduate level” beverages that we think of as beers are technically malt liquors from a legal standpoint.
So there you have it. The technical difference between beer and malt liquor has to do with the way the beverage is made and how much alcohol is in it.
Sources: The Straight Dope www.straightdope.com