|In reality, there's not much difference between malt liquor and beer. Both are made the same way: You create a
mash, let it ferment, bottle it, let it carbonate, and then you have your product. The real difference lies in what’s
used to create each, and the amount of alcohol you wind up with when all is said and done.
To make beer, you usually boil grains such as barley, wheat, and rye to extract the fermentable sugars, and then
you add yeast. That gets you a beer with alcohol content that averages between 4.5 and 8 percent. When making
malt liquor, however, brewers want the alcohol to be much higher. To achieve that higher level of alcohol, they
need to add more sugar (more sugar = more alcohol) so they incorporate adjuncts like corn and even pure white
sugar. The result is a beverage with more than 12 percent alcohol, often going as high as 20 percent.
Each state has its own regulations as to when a beer must stop being called beer and instead must be
called malt liquor, but usually, the threshold is more than 12 percent alcohol by volume.
What Does the Percentage of Alcohol in Beer Mean?
First of all note that the percentage of alcohol is not an indication of the level of intoxication you’ll feel, but instead
the amount of alcohol in the drink. You can’t be 12 percent drunk or 65 percent sober. You’re either drunk or you’
re sober. The higher percentage of alcohol in the drink, the quicker you’ll get there, but all alcohol can get you
100 percent intoxicated (and 100 percent in trouble if you choose to do idiotic things like drive after consuming it).
Alcohol by volume, or ABV, is used to measure the alcohol content of beer, wine, distilled spirits, and other
alcoholic beverages. Beers typically fall in the 3.0-13.0% . For example, if a 12-ounce bottle of beer is 5.0%
alcohol, that means that 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol are in that beer.Every alcoholic beverage is required to have
the alcohol by volume on its label.
The majority of the world measures alcohol content by volume. In very rare instances (such as historically in
Utah), the government may measure alcohol by weight (ABW). ou see an alcohol percentage on a beer label
but it does not specify whether it is ABV or ABW, it is safe to assume that it is ABV.
ABV can be converted to ABW by dividing by 0.795. So, for example, if you see a beer that is
3.2% ABW beer yis actually 4.0% ABV.
When it comes to liquor, ie distilled spirits, "proof" is the operative term. A spirit's proof is exactly twice as much
as its percentage of alcohol by volume. Why bother using this 0-200 scale? Historically traders would have to
literally prove (give proof) that their spirits were the real deal. They would drench a pellet of gunpowder in liquor
to determine the spirit's potency. If it was still possible to ignite the wet gunpowder, the alcohol content of the liquor
was rated above proof and it was taxed at a higher rate, and vice versa if the powder failed to ignite.
In other countries, other proof systems are used. For example, in 1816 the U.K. started to use gravity as their
standard. The Customs and Excise Act states that 100 proof liquors are "those in which the weight of the spirits is
12/13 the weight of an equal volume of distilled water at 51° F (11° C)." The proof then comes out to be about
1.75 times the alcohol by volume percentage. All that math could drive someone to drink.
Hope you found this month's column of interest. If you have any questions about beer or brewing
or just want to submit a word for me to discuss here just e-mail it to me.
Thanks and Cheers!
|The Difference Between Malt Liquor and Beer
|A new column by
|Jack O'Reilly attended the
famous Siebel Institute/ World
Brewing Academy in Chicago.
|I'm very excited to be part of the BeerNexus team. I think my many years in the
beer business both as a brewer and manger will enable me to explain and
investigate many topics of interest for those who really love craft beer. Hope you
join me every month.
More by Jack: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6