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What Are the Different Types of Malt Beverages?

By P.M. Willers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Malt beverages include all drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, that are made with barley as the primary ingredient. In alcoholic malt beverages, the alcohol is fermented from sugars that are derived from barley. The three primary categories of malt beverages are beer, non-alcoholic beer, and flavored “malternative” drinks, such as hard lemonade or other carbonated, alcoholic beverages.

Beer is divided into ale and lager categories, which are top fermented and bottom fermented, respectively. No matter the manner of fermentation, all beer is made with barley as its primary ingredient, classifying it as a malt beverage. Although malt liquor can be confused with the term malt beverage, malt liquor is just a type of beer.

Malt liquor has been popularized through its unique packaging, the 40 ounce (1.18 L) bottle, and its high alcoholic content. Typically, malt liquors are made by using barley as the base ingredient, although other fermentable sugars such as dextrose, corn, or rice can be added as well. These additions boost the alcoholic content and, because they are cheaper ingredients than barley, reduce production costs. Malt liquor has a taste quite different from conventional beer because it is lightly hopped, and therefore less bitter, and is sweeter tasting.

Non-alcoholic beer is a beverage produced in the same way as conventional beer, but the alcohol is removed so that it may be consumed by those do not wish to consume alcohol. Once the beer fermentation process is complete, the alcohol can be removed using heat. This is possible due to the fact that alcohol boils, and thus evaporates, at a lower temperature than water.

“Malternatives,” also known as “alcopop,” are a certain class of malt beverages that are marketed to consumers who want to drink something other than beer, but in similar packaging. These malt beverages are created by brewing a basic beer from barley and then removing all characteristics from it that are usually associated with beer. All flavor and color that resulted from the brewing process is removed and replaced by other natural and artificial flavors, juices, sugars, and distilled spirits to create the flavor profile that is marketed to the public. This type of beverage has been the subject of some controversy, owing to the fact that their somewhat juvenile appearance and sweet taste causes people to believe that minors are drawn to them. Some places have responded by taxing malternatives at a rate similar to the rate at which distilled spirits are taxed.

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