Malt Liquor vs Beer: How Different Is Beer’s Closest Cousin?

How to choose between beer and malt liquor

Malt liquor vs beer is a question that interests beer lovers. Everyone who has had their fair share of malt liquor and beer will agree that the biggest differentiating factor of malt liquor vs beer is their taste.

However, that’s not the only difference that sets them apart! Yes, both are alcoholic drinks, but there’s a stark difference between their composition and production. Find out more about the differences between these two malty drinks in this expert guide!

How Is Beer and Malt Liquor Prepared

If you’re curious about why beer and malt liquor taste so different, know that the answer mostly lies in their production process, which produces a sharply different texture, taste and alcohol by volume content. Read in this section how each beverage is produced.

– Beer

Beer production operates on one simple principle: Transforming the starch in the malted cereal into “wort.” This is done by mushing the starch with warm water for at least one to two hours. The resulting liquid is known as wort, which then needs to be filtered out.

After filtration, the clear liquid is poured into a pan and boiled. This is where brewers add the hop, which imparts the beer a distinct taste and smell. Next, they choose a yeast to ferment the beer. Keep in mind that beer can be made using both top and bottom fermentation; hence they have a free hand on the kind of yeast they want to choose, based on the desired final result.

Expert brewers add the yeast only when the mixture is in the fermenter. Next, they seal the fermenter airtight and store it in a cool and dark place with a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This ensures that the beer ferments well.

Note that it takes about two weeks for the regular beer to ferment. After that, you can bottle it. The majority of the sediments will remain in the fermentor itself. This will impart the beer a smooth texture.

– Malt Liquor

Malt liquor production demands a sufficient supply of barley, yeast, and water. The ingredients and brewing process are pretty similar to that of beer, except for hop, which is a key ingredient in beer but not in malt liquor.

Hop gives beer its distinctive taste, but malt liquor brewers use additives like rice and corn. They also add fermented sugar to increase the alcohol content, producing malt liquor’s signature sugary taste.

Remember: Malt liquor takes longer to ferment than beer since it’s prepared using bottom fermentation.

How To Choose Between Beer and Malt Liquor

Knowing the difference between malt liquor and beer isn’t enough — you also need to know which one of the two can fetch you a good time and which would suit you more.

Here are a few tips that’ll help you choose the perfect drink for you.

– Intake Capacity

No one with a beer or malt liquor in their hand wants to blackout or throw up. If you’re drinking to unwind after a tiring day, it’s best you choose a drink you can handle.

Malt liquor has a much higher alcohol content than beer, and it might get you very drunk very fast. Moreover, if you’ve just started drinking, you might not be able to handle the intensity of the taste.

Hence, if a quick drink is all you need, consider malt liquor, but go for a beer if it’s a leisurely drinking session.

– Experience

Some beginners find it difficult to get accustomed to the beer’s bitter taste. Although millions of beer fans are out there, newbies will agree that its taste is not exactly “mouthwatering.”

If taste concerns you, malt liquor is perfect for you. It’s highly sweetened and has a fruity flavor, so that even beginners will have no trouble enjoying it.

– Quantity

A lot of people love to stock up their favorite alcohol in their house so that they don’t have to visit the wine shop every time they need a drink. If you intend on stocking up, malt liquor will be a great choice.

It comes in 40-ounce packages, so you’ll have to buy fewer bottles than you’d do with beer. Also, malt liquor being cheaper, it is much more pocket-friendly than beer.

– Safety

When it comes to alcoholic drinks, you simply cannot ignore their impact on your overall health. Note that malt liquor has a higher alcohol content: It has almost 80 percent more alcohol compared to beer in the same quantity.

An alcohol overdose can cause high blood pressure and liver malfunctioning. Hence, if you’re someone who often drinks and in handsome quantities, you should definitely choose beer.

– Ease of Drinking

The best part about drinking beer and malt liquor is how easy they’re to consume. Other alcoholic drinks demand water for dilution. Beginners need a little time to wrap their heads around the alcohol-to-water ratio concept.

On the other hand, all beer and malt liquor need you to do is crack open the seal and pour it into a glass. Alternatively, you can drink straight from the bottle! When it comes to ease of consumption, there’s not much to separate beer and malt liquor.

Legal Definition of Malt Liquor

Malt liquor vs beer

Perhaps the number one reason for the growing confusion between malt liquor and beer is the dilemma with regards to their legal definition.

Legally speaking, malt liquor is either an ale or lager, and it’s distinguished by its alcohol by volume (ABV) exceeding a certain limit set by the state. Note that the legal definition focuses more on the alcohol content and totally ignores the actual ingredients in malt liquor that make it different from beer.

The exact ABV limit for an alcoholic drink to qualify as malt liquor is 5 percent, but it may vary from state to state.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you will find the most common questions regarding the malt liquor vs beer debate.

– Which Has a Better Texture: Malt Liquor or Beer?

The texture depends on the fermentation process. Malt liquor is only prepared using bottom fermentation. Hence, it has a smooth and clean texture. On the other hand, beer can be made using both top fermentation and bottom fermentation. Hence, its texture might range from smooth to slightly harsh, and it’s also available in a broad range of flavors.

– Which Is Better: Malt Liquor or Beer?

Malt liquor has always been infamous due to its inferior quality and, for ages, it has been popular among the financially weaker section of society. Although both offer similar experiences, beer is generally much more refined. So, if we speak in terms of quality, beer is definitely better.

– Do Beer and Malt Liquor Expire?

Unopened beer can last up to nine months without refrigeration. With proper storage and refrigeration, you can make it last up to two years. For most commercial malt beverages, you won’t find a fixed expiry date. In case of doubt, you can ask the seller about its manufacturing date and decide if it’s fit for you.

What’s the Difference Between Malt Liquor and Beer

If you’re a newbie wondering what’s the difference between beer and malt beverage, the following table might just be the thing you need.

We have compared both alcoholic beverages on their characteristics and production procedure to chalk out their actual difference/s.

Basis of DifferenceBeer Malt Liquor
ProductionBeer can be made using both top fermentation and bottom fermentation. Under top fermentation, the beer is subjected to very high temperatures ranging from 59 F and 77 F. 

After the beer is heated, the yeast cells will rise to the surface and add to the taste.

Malt liquor is produced only by bottom fermentation. 

It’s subjected to a comparatively lower temperature until the yeast cells sink down to the bottom of the container to add to the taste. 

IngredientsRegular beer is made of malted cereal, yeast, hop, and water. The primary ingredients of malted liquor are malted barley and yeast, while cane sugar is used to sweeten it.

Some breweries also add rice and corn to the composition. 

Alcohol ContentThe alcohol by volume content in beers is typically low–five percent or lower. This is approximately half of what malted liquor contains.The alcohol content of malt liquor ranges from six to nine percent. 

This helps you get drunk faster. In some countries like the US, any beer that has an alcohol content of more than five percent is known as malted liquor.

QuantityRegardless of the brand and the brewer, most commercial beer bottles are of uniform size and quality. Beers are generally found in 12-ounce packages. Malt liquor, although more potent than beer, is found in 40-ounce packages. This is why they’re also sometimes called “forty.”
FlavorBeer is manufactured using ale yeast at high temperatures. This is why its taste is a little bitter and subdued. Depending on the brewer, it can also be slightly tangy.Malt liquor taste a little sweet. Despite having similar ingredients to beer, it has a fruity flavor.
AppearanceIt’s often believed that since beer is made of ale, it’ll be darker. However, the actual color depends on how the brewer prepares the base malt. 

It can range between gold and red and sometimes even linger in the brown spectrum. Beer is a carbonated drink and it’s always accompanied by a heavy foam when you first break the seal. 

Malt liquor is often believed to be of a light shade, but here again, the exact color will depend on how the base malt is roasted. Generally, malt liquor color ranges from straw to slightly pale amber. 

Malt liquor is also a heavily carbonated drink and sparkles with bubbles when you first break the seal. Those bubbles are, however, not a match for beer’s thick foam.

PriceAlthough beer isn’t the costliest alcoholic drink, it’s still more expensive than malt liquor. 

The average price of a pint of beer in the United States ranges from $5 to $7. Also, it’s considered a much more classy and refined drink. 

Malt liquor, on the other hand, is relatively cheap. You get 40 ounces of malt liquor at just $1.25 to $2.50. This makes it much accessible and popular among people who cannot afford a beer. 

However, malt liquor has a higher alcohol content than beer–despite being cheaper.


Malt liquor

Phew! What a ride that was! So, in a nutshell, despite being made of similar ingredients, malt liquor and beer differ vastly in their taste, flavor, and overall experience you have with them.

Moreover, these two alcoholic drinks serve two different target groups: Beer is for the more sophisticated, while malt liquor is for people seeking taste and want to get drunk at an affordable price. The only way you’ll find the perfect one for you is by aligning your preferences with what the drink has to offer.

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