Malt Liquor vs. Beer: What’s The Difference?

It’s time for the ultimate showdown between malt liquor and beer. In this head-to-head comparison, i’ll delve into the differences that set these two popular alcoholic beverages apart. Who will you choose in the battle between malt liquor vs beer?

From their unique brewing processes to distinct flavor profiles and alcohol content, there’s more than meets the eye regarding these staple drinks.

What is the Difference Between Beer and Malt Liquor?

  • Malt liquor is a beer typically with a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than traditional beers. It uses added adjuncts like corn, rice, and sugar to increase its ABV without significantly altering the taste.
  • Beer is made from fermented grains like barley or wheat and generally has a lower ABV than malt liquor. It contains hops for bitterness as well as flavoring.
  • Malt liquor tends to be cheaper due to cheaper ingredients like adjuncts rather than more expensive ingredients like hops.
  • Excessive consumption of either malt liquor or beer can lead to serious health problems such as liver disease and addiction; both should be enjoyed responsibly in moderation.

What Is Malt Liquor?

Malt liquor is a beer brewed with added adjuncts like corn, rice, and sugar to increase its alcohol concentration without altering its taste significantly.

What Is Considered Malt Liquor?

Malt liquor is an alcoholic beverage that falls under the beer category, known for its higher alcohol content and distinctive taste.

It’s typically made with malted barley, hops, water, and yeast but often includes adjuncts such as corn or rice to increase fermentable sugars without altering the flavor too much.

Malt liquors come in many forms and are sold under various brand names like Old English 800, Colt 45, Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor, and St Ides High Gravity Malt Liquor.

Some malt liquors are also marketed as “high gravity” beers due to their elevated alcohol content levels compared to average beers.


In the world of malt liquor and beer, ingredients play a crucial role in determining the final product’s flavor profile, ABV (Alcohol By Volume), and overall quality. The primary components found in both beverages include malted barley, water, yeast, and hops.

For example, popular malt liquors like Old English 800 and Colt 45 use these added ingredients to achieve a higher ABV around 6-9%, while maintaining their unique sweetened taste profiles that are often fruitier than traditional beers.

On the other hand, classic American-style lagers like Budweiser rely on their malted barley foundation for flavor and tend to hover around an ABV of 5% or lower.

Popular Brands

Some of the most popular malt liquor brands on the market include:

These brands have gained a following for their affordable prices and distinctive taste profiles, making them a go-to choice for many malt liquor enthusiasts.

What Is Beer?

Beer is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from water, yeast, grains (usually malted barley), and hops.

What Is Considered Beer?

Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grains, including malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. The brewing process starts with malting, where the grain is soaked in water and allowed to germinate.

This process converts the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. The grains are then dried and roasted to create different flavors and colors in the beer. Hops are added during boiling to balance out the sweetness of the malted barley with bitterness and provide floral or citrusy aromas.

Yeast is added after cooling to consume the sugars produced by malting before carbonation occurs naturally or artificially through force carbonation using CO2 gas.

Popular Styles And Brands

When it comes to beer, there are numerous styles and brands available. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Light Lager: This is the most popular type of beer in North America, and examples include brands like Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite.

Best Seller

In Stock

Bud Light

  • Refreshing taste
  • Low calorie (110 calories per 12 oz. serving)
  • Widely available
  • American Adjunct Lager: This style uses adjuncts like corn or rice to lighten the flavor without sacrificing alcohol content. Brands include Budweiser and Natural Light.
  • Barleywine: A top-fermented beer that is known for its high alcohol content. Some popular brands include Dogfish Head Brewery’s “Olde School” and “Fort.”
  • Pale Ale: A bottom-fermented beer that is characterized by its hoppy taste. Popular brands include Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Goose Island IPA.

Crisp and hoppy

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Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

  • Experience the refreshing taste of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, with its distinctive blend of citrusy hops and a clean, crisp finish.
  • Brewed with meticulous attention to detail, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale embodies the spirit of craft beer, delivering a rich and flavorful drinking experience.
  • Stout: This dark beer uses roasted malted barley and has a creamy texture. Guinness is one of the most famous stout brands.
  • Pilsner: A light-colored beer that originated in Bohemia. It has a crisp taste with a slightly bitter finish. Examples include Pilsner Urquell and Stella Artois.

Classic Czech Pilsner

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Pilsner Urquell Beer

Pilsner Urquell Beer

  • One of the original pilsners, with over 175 years of brewing history.
  • Brewed with Saaz hops and soft water for a classic, clean taste.
  • Crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink.
  • Pairs well with a variety of foods, including burgers, pizza, and grilled meats.
  • A great example of the Czech pilsner style.
  • Perfect for those looking for a traditional, light-bodied beer.

Malt Liquor Vs Beer

Malt liquor differs from beer in fermentation, alcohol content, taste, appearance, and price point.

Fermentation Process

Fermentation is the process of transforming sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide through the action of yeast. In beer brewing, malted grains are soaked in hot water to extract fermentable sugars that form wort, which is boiled with hops for flavor and aroma.

The resulting liquid is cooled and fermented with yeast for several weeks before being bottled or canned.

Malt liquor uses a similar process but usually relies on sugary adjuncts like corn or rice instead of malted barley as its primary source of sugar.

This allows an increase in alcohol content without affecting the taste much.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

Alcohol by Volume (ABV) is a standard measurement used to determine the amount of alcohol content in beer and malt liquor. ABV indicates the percentage of alcohol present per volume of liquid.

Beers typically have an ABV ranging from 3% to 12%, whereas malt liquors have a higher ABV, usually between 6-9% or even higher in some cases. This difference in alcohol content contributes to their distinct taste and appearance.

For instance, high ABVs give malt liquor signature sweetness and fruitiness, while lower ABVs create more bitter flavors in traditional beers like pale ale or IPA.

Taste And Appearance

Malt liquor and beer have different taste profiles, with malt liquor having a sweeter and fruitier taste due to its lower concentration of hops and added sugars. It can also have a spicier or bitter taste depending on the brand.

Malt liquor’s color ranges from straw to pale amber, which depends on how long the barley is roasted.

On the other hand, beer has a more significant presence of hops that lends it a distinct bitterness in flavor that can vary in intensity based on the type of brew, such as light lagers, American adjunct lagers, or barleywines.

Furthermore, some craft brewers are redefining malt liquor by adding hops to create unique blends with aroma profiles like citrus fruits and clove spices while retaining their high alcohol content.


In terms of price, malt liquor is generally less expensive than beer. It uses cheaper adjuncts such as rice and corn in its brewing process instead of more costly ingredients like hops.

Malt liquor is often targeted toward low-income consumers looking for a cheap way to get drunk quickly. Forty-ounce bottles, also known as “forties,” are popular among malt liquor drinkers due to their large size and affordable cost.


Is Malt Liquor A Type Of Beer?

Yes, malt liquor is a beer typically brewed with adjuncts like corn, rice, and sugar to increase its alcohol content without altering its taste.

It’s often classified as a style of American-style lagers due to the similarities in brewing methods and ingredients. 

Is Malt Liquor Stronger Than Beer?

Malt liquor is generally stronger than beer. While regular beer usually has an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 5% or lower, malt liquor typically contains between 6-9% ABV or higher, with some brands even reaching up to 14%.

What’s The Difference Between Cheap Beer And Malt Liquor?

Cheap beers tend to be more bitter due to a higher concentration of hops, while malt liquors are known to be sweeter and fruitier because they contain less but more sugar.

What Is The Difference Between Malt Liquor And Beer Alcohol Content?

Malt liquor and beer have distinct differences in alcohol content. Malt liquor has a higher ABV (Alcohol By Volume) than regular beer, typically ranging from 6% to 12%, while many beers have an ABV of around 4% to 6%.

Why Is Beer More Expensive Than Malt Liquor?

As someone who has worked in the alcohol industry for many years, I can tell you that the price of beer typically depends on several factors. Firstly, the brewing process of beer is more complex and time-consuming compared to malt liquor.

Another factor is branding and marketing. Beer brands often invest significant resources in advertising campaigns to attract diverse consumers.

Additionally, taxes play a role in determining pricing differences between beer and malt liquor.

Why do some people prefer drinking malt liquor over traditional beers?

Some drinkers enjoy the sweet taste and high alcohol content of malt liquor and its affordability compared to craft beers or premium imports. Others might appreciate the cultural associations with certain brands or how they’re marketed toward specific communities.

Does Malt Liquor Taste Better Than Beer?

If you are looking for a stronger sweeter taste, well then, yes, malt liquor might accommodate your taste buds. But for most of us, unless we opt for the cheaper alternative, you can find a much-varied selection of styles and tastes with beer.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, malt liquor and beer are both types of alcoholic beverages with distinct differences.

Malt liquor typically has a higher ABV and added adjuncts to increase alcohol content without significantly altering the taste.

Beer is made from fermented grains like barley or wheat and has a lower alcohol content than malt liquor.

While malt liquor was created to stay competitive with spirits in the 1950s and marketed to inner-city neighborhoods, its popularity has declined recently.

And unless you are looking for a cheaper beer alternative, then my advice is to stick with beer.

The styles and flavors of beer are endless.


Dan Smullen Beer is my life profile

Hi, I'm Dan, founder of BeerIsMyLife. I've been an avid homebrewer for over ten years, and beer is my true passion. I've traveled all over the world, visiting breweries, tasting beer, as well as making my own batches. I set up this blog to share that experience with you.