What Is A Malt Liquor?

In North America, Malt Liquor refers to any type of beer with a high alcohol content. Beers containing alcohol content above 6 percent generally fall in this category. They have a similar brewing process to that of American Style Lagers. Malt Liquors tend to make use of inexpensive materials such as corn, rice, and dextrose in combination with special enzymes to create a beer higher in alcohol content. 

So why all the confusion? Why is there a wide variety of beers that people may know as malt liquors? The answer to that is simply that there is no defined concept that is universally accepted. So what does that mean? Take Soda Pop for example. In some areas of the country they call it “Soda Pop”, in some they call it just “Soda”, still in others they call it just “Pop”. If you’re ever in Georgia, where Coca-Cola is headquartered, they just call it coke, no matter what kind it is. Malt Liquor falls in this category. In some states is means anything made by fermenting grain and water. In other areas, beer must be lower than 6 percent, anything above this will be labeled Malt Liquor. There are several other definitions out there as well but these two are the most commonly accepted. 

The History Of Malt Liquor

Still confused? Just wait, there’s even more to unwrap about Malt Liquors. They have additional names and styles. Back in the good ole’ English days, Malt liquor according to documentation from 1690 was just another term for beer. The word first appeared in North America in Canada in 1842 as an improved method of “brewing ale, beer, porter, and other malt liquors”.

So we know that Malt Liquor is beer, it’s a lager style, and that it uses a special process to make it compared to normally brewed beer. OK, so here are some terms that describe Malt liquors. 

  • High Gravity of HG – Malt liquors that usually surpass 7% alcohol
  • Imperial Lager – This kind of malt liquor is brewed with more hops but still has the high alcohol content.
  • Ice Brewed – Alcohol has a lower freezing point than water, so during the brewing process the temperature causes ice to form on top from the water, which is scraped off. This raises the alcohol content. 
  • Alcopops – …alcopops often start out as un-hopped beers, depending on the state in which they are sold. Much of the malt (and alcohol) is removed (leaving mostly water), with subsequent addition of alcohol (usually vodka or grain alcohol), sugar, coloring and flavoring. Such drinks are legally classified as beers in virtually all states and can therefore be sold in outlets that do not or cannot carry spirit-based drinks.

So you can see there is a lot of muddled history when it comes to malt liquor. If we go by the very basic definitions I think we will have a better idea of what exactly constitutes a malt liquor. It is a beer, has high alcohol content, and it is NOT liquor in the sense that we know it. It’s basically a high alcohol percentage beer. 

Can You Brew Malt Liquor At Home?

Yes, and we have found a great recipe for you. As always, no experience is necessary to start brewing beer, but that doesn’t mean it will come out exactly like you think it will. Brewing is a science and should be treated as such. If you are new to brewing you can get a lot of the supplies online from websites like Amazon. You can otherwise look for a brewers shop around your area. Without further delay, here is the recipe.

American Malt Liquor (Olde English Clone) | Lite American lager


  • For a 5 U.S. gallons (19 liters)
  • 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg) | American 2-row pale malt
  • 3.25lbs (1.7 kg) | American 6-row pale malt
  • 3lbs (1.4 kg) | flaked corn
  • 2 HBU (56 MBU) | American Cluster hops 105 minutes
  • 1.5 HBU (43 MBU) | American Nugget hops
  • 0.25 tsp Irish moss
  • 0.75 c. corn sugar for priming in bottles. Use 1/3 c. corn sugar if priming in keg.
  • Yeast 2007 Pilsen Lager yeast


  • Original Gravity: 1.055
  • Final Gravity: 1.004
  • ABV: 7%
  • IBU: 14
  • SRM: 4.5


  • A step infusion mash is employed to mash the grains. Add 10 quarts (9.5L) of 130 °F (54.5 °C) water to the crushed grain and flaked corn, stir, stabilize and hold the temperature at 122 °F (50 °C) for 30 minutes.
  • Add 5 quarts (1.9 L) of boiling water. Add heat to bring the temperature up to 150 °F (65.5 °C). Hold for about 60 minutes.
  • After conversion, raise temperature to 167 °F (75 °C) water, lauter and sparge with 4 gallons (15 L) of 170 °F (77 °C) water. Collect about 6.5 gallons (25 L) of runoff, add bittering hops and bring to a full and vigorous boil.
  • The total boil time will be 105 minutes. When 10 minutes remain, add Irish moss. After total wort boil of 105 minutes (reducing wort volume to just over 5 gallons), turn off the heat, then separate or strain out and sparge hops.
  • Chill the wort to 65 °F (18 °C) and direct into a sanitized fermenter. Aerate the cooled wort well. Add an active yeast culture and ferment for 4 to 6 days in the primary at 55 °F (15 °C). Then transfer into a secondary fermenter, chill to 50 °F (10 °C) to age for two more weeks, then lager for two to four more weeks at 40 °F (4.5 °C).
  • When secondary aging is complete, prime with sugar, bottle or keg. Let condition at temperatures above 60 °F (15.5 °C) until clear and carbonated, then store chilled.


Substitute 3.5lbs American 2-row pale malt for 2.5lbs English light dried malt extract.

For original recipe visit homebrewersassociation.org.

The Best Malt Liquors

Here are the top 5 Malt Liquors you can get. Based on Taste, Price, and Quality of all the beers, the manual.com put together a list for your enjoyment.

  • Mickey’s – Made by Miller Brewing Co., this malt liquor has 5.6 percent alcohol by volume and is crisp and generally light for a malt liquor.
  • Colt .45 – Sweet and silky with a hint of lemon, Colt 45 is one of the top two most popular malt liquors ever made and packs an ABV of 5.6 percent.
  • Olde English 800 – At 7.5 percent ABV, it’s stronger than others on the list, but expect a smooth and rich drink that’s got a dose of subtly fruity aroma.
  • King Cobra – Can you get a better name for a drink? Anywho, when it comes to the body, King Cobra is light on the hop characteristics. It doesn’t even really feel like you’re drinking a 6 percent beer
  • Steel Reserve – This 8.1 percent giant that graces shelves across the country with its presence. Slightly sweet and malt-ish with a low price.

As you can see Malt Liquors are really just a high-percentage beer. Some of them taste pretty good due to the way they are brewed, others have more of an alcohol taste to them like a traditional liquor would, which can be a turn off. They are a great option if you are running low on cash, and I think the taste of some of these may really surprise you if you have never had them. As always, but especially this time since the alcohol content is so high, be safe and get a dd. Cheers!

Here at hmmwhat2drink.com, we strive for a commitment to excellence. We enjoy our beers, spirits, and specialty drinks as much as the next, but we urge you to drink responsibly. These articles and recipes are intended for adults and as such, should be used in the proper context. So have fun, relax, but do it responsibly in your home or with a designated driver. If you have any suggestions please email us at hmmwhat2drink@gmail.com.

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