Breaking Out the Forty

by: BeerAdvocate on 03-21-2001
For the most part, Malt Liquor beers are sold in the infamous 40 oz sized bottles, some as large at 64 ozs to as small as a 12 oz bottles. Wide mouthed necks are also very popular - this allows the beer to practically funnel its way into your belly. They usually hit at around 5.5 to 8.2% alcohol by volume and are straw to pale amber in colour. Most use excessive amounts of adjuncts, such as corn, rice, refined brewers sugar (dextrose) and as a result there are very few "all malt" brewed malt liquors. Hops are barely used, just enough is added to balance off any cloyingness. Higher alcohol versions tend to have a loads of fusel alcohol, which gives off solvent or fuel like aromas and flavours. They are attenuated very well, meaning a higher ratio of fermentable sugars are present over other beers, but without using as many ingredients and still ending up with a high alcohol content. Some breweries enable the use of special enzymes to further breakdown the malt and adjuncts so they will yield a larger percentage of alcohol. This makes for quite a dry beer, with only a small amount of unfermented sugars and a kick that will knock you on your ass.

Malt liquors must be served ice cold, as close as you can get to 32°F as possible. If you try to drink the stuff any warmer than 45°F you risk the chance of hurling as they can get nasty when warm. And, if you must drink it out of a glass, a frozen one is a must to ensure an optimal temperature. Malt liquor is a specifically brewed to be consumed quickly, achieve an abrupt buzz and easy to drink. This can cause the toughest of drinkers, let alone half-pints, to forget their name and current location. Not a good thing if your buzz goes that far, especially with malt liquor. In the wrong hands malt liquor also becomes instant asshole juice. Only experienced drinkers should attempt to take on malt liquors, and preferably at home, alone.

Oddly, and a little known fact, not all beers labeled a malt liquor are. Varying from state to state, the label is applied to certain beers that exceed a specific alcohol content. You'll see this commonly with imports.

The style has many names, like "liquid crack", "ghetto juice", "booty juice", "crazy juice", "death in a bottle", "four O" or just plain "forty." Popularity has been growing over the years and throughout various boroughs in the American culture. However, you cannot dispute its horrible impact, and the sly marketing tactics behind it, which contributed in making it the drink of choice in the ghettoes. Malt liquors are often marketed as being "high in alcohol" with a demographic target of young men, traditionally students, minorities, white trash, wiggers, drunks or any combination of the mentioned. It's guaranteed that the seedier the neighbor, the more malt liquor you will find. Guaranteed. Take no offense if you fall into one of these categories, but you are being targeted with a juice from hell. By drinking it you reinforce this common theory, strengthen the marketing behind it and line the pockets of mega-breweries while you get crazy stupid drunk. Beer is often classified as a depressant, but don't allow it to be a suppressant on your mind.

All the negativity aside, as BeerAdvocates we have to keep open palates and review a wide spectrum of beers, including malt liquor beers. Here are a few to be aware of, or perhaps even stay away from.

Steel Reserve - One of the most drinkable malt liquors we have tasted, one of the more alcoholic out on the market also. Even when it warms up a bit it doesn't get ghastly like other malt liquors do. About a buck a can (22 oz can) 8.1% alcohol by volume.

St. Ides - High octane brew, aimed for people that want a quick and ugly buzz. Pretty damn good for what you would expect in a malt liquor. Only $1.00 a pop (22 oz bottle), but remember that you get what you pay for. Supposedly the late Tu Pac Shukur's beverage of choice. 8.2% alcohol by volume.

King Cobra Premium Malt Liquor - An Anheuser-Busch product, the name says it all and who they are marketing for. As for the quality? If you like to drink flavourless beer with a kick of alcohol, then this is for you. 5.9% abv.

Magnum 40 - On the bottle is says "Magnum Premium" ... premium compared to what? A sub-standard malt liquor, lots of rough edges and tough to get down. Needless to say we had a hard time consuming all of it. One of the cheapest 40's you can get, usually around $1.50 a pop. 6.0% alcohol by volume.

Mickey's - Not much to the brew for flavour, quick, clean to drink and 5.6% alcohol by volume. Big time 40 brew for the collegiate types and a step above Magnum, the other Miller Brewing produced malt liquor. About $2.00 a bottle though there is better for that price, not a bad web site they put out either:

Haffenreffer Private Stock - The one thing that sticks with us about this beer is the bottle cap. The inside has those cool picture puzzles where you try to make a word or saying. A recent one had "rush" + a hen + a dress + a sink = Russian dressing. How lame is that? Serving instructions suggest to serve it "well cooled in a tall glass or on the rocks." It also states that it's the "Malt Liquor ... with the imported taste." Hmm ... classy stuff. "Haffe" is full bodied, smooth. Malt flavour is steady, light. Mild sweetness. Soft herbal hop flavours. Bitterness is lemony with a brief sharpness. Finishes a bit dry with grain notes and residual sweetness. You can't really taste the alcohol, but you can feel it on your brain. Eating it. Probably the best on the list.

The world of sobriety and their pretentious hordes are evil enough, however we don't recommend that you use malt liquor as a weapon or method of escape. If you are going to partake of them, please do it in moderation and with the utmost respect.
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