What Exactly Is Malt Liquor?
Malt liquor is an American beer style characterized by high alcohol content, thin body, light color, little hop character, and a variety of sweetish flavors and off-flavors.
Two things prevent normal beer from achieving high levels of alcohol. First, yeast cannot break down “unfermentable” dextrins. Think of these as long chains that are simply too big for a yeast cell to feed on, so they remain in the beer to provide body and flavor. Second, yeast is a living organism that dies when the alcohol level rises above a certain level. This ends fermentation.
But with malt liquor, some things are done differently.
One: The mash contains 10 to 20 percent dextrose, sugars that the yeast can go right to work on.
Two: A heartier strain of yeast is used to tolerate a higher level of alcohol.
Three: An enzyme called alpha-amylase is added to the mash to break down the longer chains of dextrins, so more of the sugars become fermentable. This means that the brew will have more alcohol, less body and flavor.
Note: a few states require that beers that are over a certain alcohol strength carry the words “malt liquor” on the label, although they are not, in fact, malt liquors.