Malt liquor Malt liquor is a North American term referring to a type of beer with high alcohol content. In legal statutes, the term often includes any alcoholic beverage above or equal to 5% alcohol by volume made with malted barley. In common parlance, however, it is used for high-alcohol beers made with ingredients and processes resembling those in American-style lager. Malt liquor is distinguished from other beers of high alcohol content in that the brewing process is seen by many critics as targeting high alcohol content and economy rather than quality. However, this label is subject to the viewpoint of the brewer, as there are indeed examples of brews containing high-quality, expensive ingredients that brewers have chosen to label as "malt liquors".
Malt liquor is a strong lager in which sugar, corn or other adjuncts are added to the malted barley to boost the alcoholic strength. These beers tend to be mildly hopped (that is, they are not very bitter).
Brewing and legal definitions
Malt liquor is typically straw to pale amber in color. While typical beer and malt liquor are both made primarily from barley, water, and hops, malt liquors tend to make much greater use of inexpensive adjuncts such as corn, rice, or dextrose. Use of these adjuncts, along with the addition of special enzymes, results in a higher percentage of alcohol than that which is typical for beer. Higher alcohol versions, sometimes called "High Gravity" or just "HG", may contain fusel alcohol, which gives off solvent- or fuel-like aromas and flavors.
The apparently confusing and inconsistent use of the term 'malt liquor' has to do with the vagaries of American alcoholic beverage regulations, which can vary from state to state. In some states, "malt liquor" refers to any alcoholic beverage made by fermenting grain and water; in these states a non-alcoholic beer may also be called a non-alcoholic or non-intoxicating malt liquor. In some states, products labeled 'beer' must fall below a certain alcohol content, and beers that exceed the mark must be labeled as 'malt liquor'. While ordinary beers in the United States average around 5% alcohol by volume, malt liquors typically range from 6% up to 9% alcohol by volume. A typical legal definition is Colorado’s Rev. Stat. ss. 12-47-103(19), which provides that:
"Malt Liquors" includes beer and shall be construed to mean any beverage obtained by the alcoholic fermentation of any infusion or decoction of barley, malt, hops or any other similar products, or any combination thereof, in water containing more than three and two-tenths percent of alcohol by weight.