Sunday, July 10, 2011

The history of Malt Liquor. Really.

Readers with long memories will recall that for a brief period during Michael Borchers's original brewhouse incumbency, circa 2004, NABC made a beer called Turbo Hog. Just for the sake of being contrarian, we styled it as Malt Liquor, even though the brewing process was "normal" by craft beer standards.

It was the logical descendent of Bush Hog, itself an effort to redefine the "lawnmower beer" concept by boosting the alcohol content into the sixes, perhaps nearer seven, and hopping it to the point of comparison to IPAs. Both of them were graced with pre-Tony Beard graphics, courtesy of the Publican, who obviously never studied graphic design.

When the Public House hosted last week's Bell's Brewery event, I was chatting with Veronica, and somehow the topic of Malt Liquor came up. Perhaps someone mentioned Dogfish Head's willfully tacky Liquor de Malt, which I described way back in 2005: Dogfish Head's handcrafted Liquor de Malt is good beer, bad marketing.

Veronica recommended an article about the history of Amerian Malt Liquor, and as it turns out, Kihm Winship's fine piece also was written in 2005. It's hard for me to imagine a more comprehensive effort, even if it's dated a few years, and consequently misses out on the explosion of "malternative" beverages in the marketplace -- which may have stolen some of Malt Liquor's "corrupts every time" aura.

A Story without Heroes: The Cautionary Tale of Malt Liquor

I'm sure there has been much written about Malt Liquor since then, but the only mass-market version I've personally lifted to my lips was the Colt '45 we tried at an Office Hours session this spring while surveying Category 23, although something tells me the departing crazies at BBC's St. Matthews location also brewed Malt Liquor.

I could look somewhere and see if anyone else has "crafted" a Malt Liquor, but my verdict for now remains the same: Given all that I've consumed since those far-off Mickey's wide-mouths, Colt '45 didn't taste very good to me. Still, perhaps it never was intended to be about the flavor.

Price points aside, these days there are hundreds of ways to consume highly alcoholic beers, the majority of which comprise recognized styles, traditions and antcedents. However, as Winship's research reveals, Malt Liquor in the United States has its own history, reaching back to the post-Prohibition 1930's.

Who else besides Dogfish has sought to reclaim Malt Liquor for craft beer? Can it even be reclaimed? Should we?

I'm surely breaking no new ground here, but I concede to being fascinated by the possibilities ... assuming they exist. Thanks to Veronica for tripping the brain.

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