Malt Liquor VS Beer – What Sets Them Apart?

Malt Liquor VS Beer

What sets apart malt liquor vs beer? Both of these look very much the same and are often brewed the same way. But if you’ve had either, you know they are very different products.

Malt liquor has also gained some infamy as being the cheaper and inelegant option. However, it’s seeing a renaissance and malt liquor is diligently gaining some flavor.

How did it all happen to two liquors with such similarity? Let’s take a dive into the details and see how malt liquor and beer square up.

Malt Liquor vs Beer – All You Need To Know

List Of Differences Between Malt Liquor And Beer

Now that we’ve seen the details and differences between malt liquor and beer, let’s sum it up for clarity.

  • Ingredients: Beer typically uses hops, barley, wheat, and rye for brewing. Malt liquor doesn’t contain hops. It can include rice, corn, or sugar for brewing.
  • Alcohol Content: Malt liquor has a higher alcohol content as compared to beer. Most malt liquor has 12% ABV (alcohol by volume) though some can go as high as 20%. Beer is typically around 5% ABV.
  • Flavor: Beer has a hoppy flavor with some bitterness. Malt liquor doesn’t have any hops and may have some undertones of sweetness and a spicier taste.
  • Mouthfeel: Beer usually feels smoother than malt liquor.
  • Packaging: Beer is generally sold in bottles or cans holding 12 to 24 oz of the beverage. A typical malt liquor bottle holds 40oz.
  • Fermentation: Beer can be top or bottom-fermented. Malt liquor is always bottom-fermented.
  • Cost: Beer usually fetches a higher price than malt liquor. However, both drinks are fairly well-priced.

Differences In Ingredients And Taste

Beer and malt liquor undergo the same process but there is a difference in ingredients that sets them apart. This, in turn, also affects how either liquor tastes.

When making beer, the key ingredients are barley, wheat, and rye. The process works on these to extract the fermentable sugar and turn it to alcohol. On the other hand, malt liquor wants to be sweeter and have a higher alcohol content. To make that possible, brewers will add corn or even plain white sugar to the mix. 

The higher sugar content leads to a higher alcohol content in malt liquor. It also gives malt liquor undertones of a sweeter taste.

Overall, beer has that hoppy, bitter flavor that we all recognize and love. Malt liquor doesn’t have that hoppy taste, because hops aren’t used for brewing it. Instead, it gets a relatively sweeter taste and might even get a hint of a spicy flavor.

Conventional malt liquor doesn’t have the same smooth flavor and mouthfeel that you’d expect from beer.

Beer And Malt Liquor Have Different Alcohol Content

Malt liquor has a higher alcohol content. This is also why additions like corn or sugar are made during the brewing process. Higher sugar content leads to a higher alcohol content as well. 

Conventionally, malt liquor has at least 12% alcohol, though some can go as high as 20%. Malt liquor has a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) as compared to beer. For most considerations, malt liquor will have at least twice the ABV of beer.

Beer usually has about 5% ABV, although you might find some with higher or lower alcohol content. Either way, this number usually doesn’t breach the alcohol content in malt liquor.

Legal definition for either drink can vary by jurisdiction. However, for most places, beer has around 5% ABV, while malt liquor goes to 12% ABV.

What Is Malt Liquor?

Interestingly, malt liquor is a type of beer. More specifically, it’s a type of adjunct beer that uses some different components for brewing.

Malt liquor will typically include malted barley, wheat, rye, with the addition of rice, corn, or even plain sugar. The presence of these components increases the sugar content of the mix, which in turn results in the higher alcohol content of malt liquor.

Conventional malt liquor gained the infamy of being a cheap option sold in bigger bottles. However, modern craft breweries are changing that perception and malt liquor is seeing some favor from buyers.


Is Malt Liquor Bad For You?

It would be wrong to characterize any alcoholic drink as ‘healthy’. In that sense, malt liquor isn’t good for you. Having an occasional drink should be okay. However, long-term or heavy use of any alcoholic drink, including malt liquor, is bad for health.

Is Malt Liquor Gluten Free?

Malt liquor is not gluten-free. Conventionally, malt comes from barley, which contains gluten. Depending on the brewing process, some wheat might be involved too, which contains gluten. In any case, malt liquor will contain gluten due to its origin in barley.

The Bottom Line

Though malt liquor is a type of beer, there are clear differences in a malt liquor and beer comparison. Both liquors have distinct properties, taste, and different alcohol content. While beer definitely has earned its place as one of the most popular drinks in the world, malt liquor too is worth a try and some appreciation.

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