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What is Malt Liquor?

Dogfish Head Liquor de MaltAs brewermasters continue to stretch the bounds of brewing sensibility, some are heading into uncharted territory.  One of the last beer styles that has yet to be truly mastered is an American classic: the malt liquor.  The inhabitants of this realm read like a list of reject family members that you dread seeing around the holidays: Colt 45, Camo, and Olde English.

The goal with a malt liquor is to brew a high gravity, easy drinking beer that will get the job done.  The most commonly used specialty ingredient used in this variety is corn.  Corn gives these beers a hanging sweetness in the mouth and a dry, harsh booziness in the finish.  The problem with corn is that it requires special processing in order to be broken down into sugars so the yeast can convert the sugars into alcohol.  This can be accomplished by using an enzyme, alpha amylase, which let these easy drinking beers sneak up into the 6-9% ABV range.

As I alluded to, some of the players in the craft beer industry have attempted to tame this wild variety.  Here are a few of the players:

  • Dogfish Head Liquor De Malt – This beer was brewed with a complex variety of blue, red, and white corn.  While creating a special 40oz vessel and dropping each bottle a hand stamped brown bag seemed like a neat idea, this actually lead to this brew’s demise because of the labor intensive packaging.
  • Full Sail Big Daddy J’s Malt Liquor – The Full Sail team asked employees to provide ideas for new brews and that is how this beer was born.  Full Sail will donate some of the 2012 proceeds to Helping Hands Against Violence.
  • Three Floyd’s Region Riot – This brew was a brewpub only release.  This elixir was created to celebrate the region it was brewed in using corn grown locally in Indiana.

I am just glad we all have some more respectable options for duct taping to our hands.

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