Malt Liquor vs Beer—Definitive Differences

You’ve had a beer before.

And you’ve probably had malt liquor too. 

Even though they both taste different, you may not have noticed much else that sets them apart.

So, what makes beer and malt liquor different? 

Let’s dive right in to settle this “Malt liquor vs. beer” confusion.

Bottles Of Shiner 97 Black Lager & A 40 Of Country Club Malt Liquor Vs. Beer.

Malt Liquor 101

Malt Liquor is a type of beer.

That’s right – it’s higher in ABV than regular beer, but the taste is similar. 

Brands like Colt 45, Olde English 800, and Mickey’s are Malt Liquor.

It’s twice as strong as beer, so you’ll get drunk faster with the same amount. 

Now, let’s dive deeper into the difference between Malt Liquor vs. beer.

Related Beer: The Difference Between Craft Beer Vs. Beer – Learn More Here.

Defining Malt Liquor

What do you consider malt liquor?

Legally, it’s any drink with malted barley and 5% or more ABV. 

To reach this alcohol level, brewers add corn, dextrose, or rice to increase the fermented sugar in the wort.

Fun fact: malt liquor was first documented in England in 1690, but it wasn’t until 1933 that American Malt Liquor emerged. 

During The Great Depression, brewers had trouble brewing beer due to a lack of metal, so malt liquor became popular.

Over the years, both alcohol content and sugar content increased.

Malt Liquor vs. Beer: The Key Differences

Do you know why malt liquor is so much stronger than regular beer?

They’re both made from malt, but they’re made differently.


When it comes to beer and malt liquor, there’s a big difference.

Beer is made with grains like barley. 

These are then heated, dried, and cracked to isolate the enzymes needed for brewing.

The liquid left is called wort, which is boiled, then hops, and other spices are added. 

After that, it’s strained, filtered, and fermented with yeast.

Malt liquor, on the other hand, is made with the same ingredients as beer but with the addition of adjuncts like rice, corn, or sugar. 

This gives malt liquor a much higher ABV.

Taste and Appearance

You may have noticed that beer has a smooth, slightly bitter flavor.

That’s because hops, a cone-shaped fruit, help to balance out the sweetness of the sugar. 

Meanwhile, you don’t need hops to make malt liquor.

It’s usually made without any or with a minimal amount. 

This means it’s a lot sweeter and fruitier than regular beer.

Plus, it’s fizzier due to the extra sugar. 

This is because the yeast breaks down the extra sugar into carbon dioxide.

Malt liquor can range from straw to pale amber, depending on how long the barley was roasted. 

So, you can see that malt liquor and beer have different tastes and appearances.

Related Reading: A List Of Hoppy Beers And Measuring Hoppiness – Dive Deeper Here.

ABV Differences

Beer usually has an ABV of five percent or less.

In comparison, malt liquor’s ABV is generally six to nine percent or even higher. 

In other words, one bottle of malt liquor can contain more than double the alcohol of a regular beer.

Related Reading: Beer Alcohol Percentages – Learn More Here.


You may have heard of malt liquor as “cheap alcohol.”

This is because, historically, it was made to be more affordable than beer. 

In the 1950s and ’60s, beer sales declined, so breweries created malt liquor with higher alcohol content.

This was especially popular in inner city neighborhoods due to its low price and high ABV. 

So, malt liquor is usually cheaper than beer but still packs a punch!

Related Reading: Is Brewing Beer Cheaper Than Buying? – Read More Here.

Brief History

A Well Stocked Wine Store.

Malt liquor has a rich history. 

Two names stand out: Clarence “Click” Koerber and Alvin Gluek. 

  • Koerber brewed Clix Malt Liquor in 1937 in Michigan.
  • Gluek brewed Sparkling Stite by Gluek in 1942 in Minnesota. 

Other figures have left their mark, too, experimenting with flavors and brewing methods.

After WWII, malt liquor’s popularity kept growing. 

Now it’s enjoyed all over.

You may have heard of classic American malt liquor brands like: 

In the 90s, they were advertised by famous rappers like Ice Cube and sold in 40-ounce bottles – which is why they were nicknamed ‘forties.’

Unfortunately, forties have been less popular since the late 90s. 

But there are flavored malt beverages like: 

These have become popular alternatives to beer and traditional malt liquor.

A Quick Key Point Summary of Differences

  • Beer and malt liquor are both cost-efficient ways to consume alcohol. However, beer is more expensive. 
  • Beer is typically sold in cans ranging from 12oz to 24oz, while malt liquor is usually sold in 40oz glass bottles. 
  • The alcohol content of beer is usually less than 5%, while malt liquor is typically 12% or more. 
  • Beer can be top or bottom-fermented, while malt liquor is only bottom-fermented. 
  • There is a distinct difference in taste between the two drinks; malt liquor is not as bitter as beer and has a spicier flavor.

Related Reading: German Beer Vs. American Beer Supremacy – Find Out Here.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has provided more insight into the difference between malt liquor vs. beer.

Just remember that your preference is what matters most! 

You can enjoy a refreshing beverage, whether malt liquor or beer.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what you like best.