The small assortment of 24 oz. cans of malt liquors and beverages that came into my possession wasn’t looked-for. They sat mockingly in my fridge daring me to drink them, defying my urge to either give them away or dump them down the drain after a quick taste. The snooty beer geek in me couldn’t imagine they’d be worth my time, but I slowly realized that an opportunity had been presented. Even if it was horrible, I knew these gems could still be a learning experience. So, with the help of my youngest brother, I staged the first (not-annual) Malt Liquor-Palooza!
As it turns out, malt liquor has a pretty interesting history. I found this incredibly well-researched article, The Sleazy and Spectacular History of Malt Liquor, that did an awesome job of taking me on a journey through time from its origins in the late 1930’s to present day. It’s a long story. Suffice it to say that malt liquor has a strange and sometimes controversial past with connections to a bizarre mix of demographics that range from country club yuppies to the disadvantaged of rural and urban America, and the coolest of the cool in the hip hop culture. It was originally marketed as a highbrow alternative to liquor and champagne, but not surprisingly, it became an economical way to get drunk quick. Young males in particular are attracted to the large containers of potent suds as a display of their masculinity. According to marketing, it may even help you get laid! But, malt liquor has an appeal to pretty much anyone who wants to catch a buzz on the cheap. The stronger it is the better is sells.
That’s really the crux of it. Malt liquor is beer with an ABV that’s about 20% higher than your average cheap lager or ale. Ranging from around 6% ABV on up to the double-digits, brewers utilize plenty of inexpensive adjuncts (including corn and sugar) along with enzymes to break down complex sugars for hearty yeast to devour and convert into alcohol. The process leaves behind fewer residual nonfermentable dextrins and therefore less body, flavor, and color. The beverage is scantily hopped and comes off marginally sweet with a variety of yeast-born flavors and off flavors. Fill a 40 oz. bottle with the stuff, and you’ve got a whole lotta “high performance pleasure” in your hand.
Ben was a good sport about my Malt Liquor-Palooza idea. My little brother even suggested we play Edward Fortyhands, a college drinking game where the player has a “forty” of malt liquor duct taped in each hand only to be removed after being consumed. I figured tasting them was enough. No need to completely immerse myself in malt liquor culture, right? If I’m being honest, though, getting a little bit crazy with the party-brew is really the only way to enjoy it. Carefully sipping and analyzing each brew made for a lot of sour faces on my part, which Ben was all too happy to laugh at. When we got silly and started pouring them two and three at a time down our gullets, the good times got rollin’.
Malt Liquor-Palooza Lineup
Olde English “800” – Street name: O.E., the “old school” brew is a classic representation of malt liquor. It wasn’t the first ever made – that distinction goes to Clix or Stite – but, it’s been around since 1964 and is produced by Miller. ABV 7.5%, I detected a touch of nuttiness in this one.
The Bull, Schlitz High Gravity – Following in the footsteps of Colt 45‘s kicking horse, Schlitz chose a powerful animal as a mascot to demonstrate its strength. This 8.5% ABV beast is another classic example of malt liquor. If you try, you can just taste a bit of caramel malt similar to Olde English.
Hurricane High Gravity, Category 5 – Anheuser-Busch invites you to “be bold, be smooth, and be powerful” with its effort in the malt liquor industry. Ironically, this is probably the least bold of the bunch, though I may have to give it smooth. It had the lightest body while still boasting an 8.1% ABV.
E-40 – In a prime example of the hip hop connection, the rapper, E-40, from Vallejo, CA is now producing malt liquor. The attempt is to market this product as a “craft” version supposedly using the finest quality ingredients available. The “hint of honey” promised was there which made it slightly more drinkable than the others for me.
Four Loko, Frost/Gold – When I cracked these two beauties I realized that they were NOT malt liquor, but some kind of red-headed step-children, one of which had dyed its hair bright blue. At 14% ABV, they’re certainly here to party! Four Loko was originally an alcoholic energy drink that was considered dangerous. The company was eventually forced to remove the caffeine, taurine, and guarana from its beverages. It still relies on loads of artificial colors and flavors which is hard for me to take. Ben loved the Frost which left him with blue teeth. Sexy!
I’m not going to recommend that you try this at home. Unless you’re short on cash and have a mighty need to achieve a full belly and a buzz in one drink, or need to attract some chicks, you’re better off with plain old beer. I don’t need to tell you that you can ingest plenty of alcohol by drinking an IPA. Still, I find myself strangely glad I delved into the absurd shitshow that is the history and culture of malt liquor. If nothing else it was entertaining, and I had a hell of a time hanging out with my bro, in all his shirtless glory, slamming cans of E-40 and O.E. at our little Malt Liquor-Palooza.