Difference Between Beer and Malt Liquor


You have probably heard of the terms beer and malt liquor, and you have probably consumed both. You are also probably thinking that they are basically the same thing, but the reality is that they aren’t. Did you know that beer and malt were both invented by monks? While they are both alcoholic beverages, there are a handful of differences between them. You may have noticed that there is a difference when you drink them, but just passed it off as malt liquor being a bad beer.

Malt Liquour

Malt liquor is legally defined as alcoholic beverages consisting of beer and high alcohol content beer manufactured by any means of fermentation with infusion of a mix of barley and hops (or other such products) with water of at least 2/3 parts that contains more than alcohol by volume weight.

The term of malt liquor was first used colloquially in England in the late to define beer of any strength. The first time that the term was used in documentation was in Canada in the mid as “an improved method for brewing ale, beer porter

What Sets The Apart?

The primary differences between a beer and malt liquor are the processes in which both are made and the alcohol content of each one. Beers are top or bottom fermented and malt liquors are only bottom fermented. What does that mean? Top fermenting means that you are using ale yeast, while bottom fermenting means that you are using lager yeast. Lager yeast grows slower than ale yeast making for different properties in some beers.

It is common practice to use percentages of alcohol content to determine if you are drinking beer or malt liquor. Most beers contain 5 percent alcohol content, with many lagers and ales containing 7 percent. Malt liquors will usually have at least 12 percent alcohol content. In some countries, like Canada and Europe, anything up to 8 percent is considered a beer while 8 percent is considered a malt liquor.

How Does it Taste?

One of the first things you notice when drinking a beer is that it has a very bitter taste to it. Malt liquor has a much sweeter taste because sugar and other sweeteners have been added to it. Many people also claim that malt liquors have a light spicy taste to them as well. Beer is much milder, and many people say that even though it is bitter it has a smooth taste.

Beer is often sold in 12 ounce and 16 ounce bottles or 12 ounce cans. Malt liquors are usually sold in larger bottles usually around 40 ounces or more. Most people think that because beer comes in a smaller container that it is better than malt liquor. Malt liquors cost less to manufacture, so more can put into a container than with beer. In the mid 1900s, some companies such as 45 were manufacturing beer in 64 ounce containers. This was generally used as a marketing ploy to enhance the purchasing of malt liquors.

For more than four hundred years, malt liquor has been associated with those of low class, those who live in poverty or those who run the streets, whereas beer was seen as a more elite drink for the more affluent people of the times. It is known that a person can become drunk easier while drinking malt liquors than with drinking beers.

How Beer is Made

Beer is made from a combination of barley and hops with brewer yeast and water. These ingredients are mixed carefully and allowed to ferment over a period of time before they are aged to beer. The fermenting process is also what gives beer its bubbly look. Malt liquor is made just like beer, however additional ingredients are added into the mix, such as corn and rice. Again, it is aged for some time until the bubbles are processed through fermentation.

What is the difference in top and bottom fermenting yeast other than the type of alcohol it is used in? As the name would suggest top fermenting yeast floats to the top of the concoction while bottom fermenting yeast sinks. When using top fermenting yeast, the sugars are removed from the top, whereas the bottom fermenting yeast allows the sugars to stay in the mix giving malts their sweeter taste. While beer can be manufactured using either yeast, only a bottom fermenting yeast can be used to make malts because of the additional sugar that is needed in the mixing process. Yeast sugar and cane sugar are two different things, so don’t think that they can remove it and add in a bag of sugar.

Just as with beer, malt liquor comes in a variety of colors and tastes. Most versions of both are anywhere from a light golden or amber color to a deep dark brown (nearly black!) color. Some can taste fruity, sweet, bitter, bland, smoky, spicy or anywhere in between.

Key Points to Remember

1. Beers are either top or bottom fermented and only bottom fermenting is used with malts.
2. Beer contains less of an alcohol content (usually 5 percent or less) than malts (which are 12 percent and above).
3. Beers are bitter, malts are sweeter. Beers are smoother while malts have more of a spicy taste. Beer has a deeper taste while malts are richer in taste.
4. Beer is usually sold in 12 ounce cans or 16 ounce bottles. Malts are often sold in 40 ounces or larger.
5. Malt liquors are cheaper to manufacture than beer so can be sold for a cheaper price.