Monday, February 27, 2017

Malt Liquor Reviews from a Wine Critic

Malt Liquor Review (originally published by The Wave Magazine)
We asked a widely published wine critic and Napa Valley regular to closely examine some of the finest malt liquors a $1.19 can buy.
By: Tim Teichgraeber
Malt liquor looks like beer, smells like beer, and—aside from the fact that it may be a little more bland and a little more sweet—more or less tastes like beer. Sounds harmless enough, but don’t be fooled: Malt liquor is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I call it “sucker punch” because it tends to sneak up on you.
I guess you could say that malt liquor is like a beer that makes you want to break stuff. Weighing in at somewhere between 5.5 and 8% alcohol by volume, it can be twice as strong as regular beer, which falls somewhere between 4 and 5.5%. While a reasonable person might say, “Well, maybe I’ll just have two malt liquors instead of my usual three regular beers,” it doesn’t usually seem to work that way. Instead, folks drink about the same amount of malt liquor as they would beer, then start breaking stuff.
Malt liquor is like beer without the cultural sensitivity. If those bikini-chick Keystone and Bud Light ads drive you nuts, you should definitely steer clear of the malt liquor aisle. Some of the packaging is tasteless enough to make Jack Kent Cooke spin in his grave.
Mickey’s, the belligerent Irishman-themed brand—and the only one that seems to appeal to a broad base of white malt-liquor drinkers, also known as “swiggers”—is on the lower end of the alcohol content spectrum at 5.6%. Whether it’s because the Mickey’s brewery staff has a social conscience or doesn’t want their brew to be perceived as weak, Heileman doesn’t print the alcohol content on the bottle.
Then there’s Crazy Horse, the brand Hornell Brewing Company and G. Heileman named after the famed Ogala Sioux warrior who died trying to protect his people from, well, liquor, among other things. After eight years of protests, lawsuits, and boycotts, Stroh’s Brewing, the parent company of Heileman, agreed to pull the brand from the market and to pay seven horses, 32 Pendleton blankets, braids of tobacco, and sweet grass to the estate of Crazy Horse and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, quickly putting allegations of insensitivity to rest once and for all.
In the late ‘80s, gangster rapper Ice Cube endorsed St. Ides in a massive poster campaign. This was long before he was tapped by the Hollywood establishment to battle giant CGI anacondas on the silver screen.
But no brewery would go so far as to endorse criminal behavior, right? Of course not! The fact that “211” is police code for armed or aggravated robbery has nothing to do with the name of 8.1% alcohol Steele Reserve 211. It’s just a coincidence. Everybody knows numerology is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. Steele Reserve even carries a prominent warning of its “High Gravity.” This is HIGH gravity, folks, not the kind that makes an apple fall on your head. This is the kind of gravity that crushes you, drooling, into the sidewalk.
I won’t pretend to be a malt-liquor aficionado. I am a professional wine critic who gets an endless stream of nice bottles of wine in the mail for free. I don’t have to drink malt liquor, so I generally don’t. On the other hand, I’m also a freelance writer who can’t afford to be picky about his assignments. I’ll also defend to the death a person’s right to unwind at the end of the day, or in the morning.
When the Madison, Wisconsin, Alcohol License Review Committee proposed a voluntary ban on the sale of individual bottles of malt liquor, unfairly associating the sale of 40s with “aggressive panhandling, open intoxication, public urination, theft, armed robbery, and intimidation,” at least one brave citizen had the guts to stand up for a working person’s right to relaxation.
“My two daughters work minimum wage at McDonald’s and cannot afford $40 bottles of wine,” said Carl Endres, owner of Keg’s Korner. “They deserve the right to relax after a hard day of work.”
Thanks, Carl. Thanks for looking out for the kids.
The following nine brands were tasted blindly in Riedel Grand Cru Bordeaux (21.5 oz) stemware. Each was poured by an assistant standing out of my sight. All liquors were rated on a 10 point scale, with 1 being undrinkable and 10 being superior in all respects.

Olde English “800” Malt (Pabst Brewing Co., 7.5% alcohol)
Eight-ball anyone? Medium-gold in color with a decent head, it’s bright and bubbly with more freshness and life than most of its counterparts, with apple and yeast notes, a hint of lemon, and a sort of Budweiser-like woodiness. It’s higher in acid but also fuller bodied than the others, has relatively high apparent alcohol, and finishes rich and relatively long. Rich, strong, and uncompromising—do not serve to children. Rating: 6

St. Ides (St. Ides Brewing Company, 7.3%)
Medium-gold in color with a very yeasty nose and sour, orangey aromas, like a Belgian weiss beer with a shot of vodka dropped into it. More full-flavored with comparatively stronger yeast, citrus, and bread flavors that finish with a slightly metallic crispness. Notice how it makes your tummy warm? Watch out. Rating: 5

Mickey’s (Heileman Brewing Co. 5.6%)
This bee has lost its sting. Pale gold in color with light, watery lemony and beery aromas. It’s bland and uninteresting and has a stale, wet-cardboard finish. It’s a punk-ass product by any standard. And what would Mickey’s be without the nuggets of wisdom on the inside of the twist-off caps: “buzz’-are (adj) How everything looks through the bottom of a Mickey’s bottle.” Duh. Rating: 2

Colt 45 (Carling Brewery, 5.6%)
With all due respect to Billy Dee Williams, this stuff is foul. Stinky smelling, foamy in a dish-soap sort of way, and medium gold in color, it tastes of musty cardboard and chalk, and is otherwise without merit. Stale as it gets. Rating: 2

King Cobra (Anheuser Busch, 5.9%)
This brand hasn’t been a player for a long time. Kinda hard to understand why when it has such a kick-ass name. It has creamy, orangey aromas with a slightly smoky, beery quality. Bland and slightly stale, and almost flavorless—a rather limp serpent ready for retirement or a major label-and-contents overhaul. It doesn’t even taste particularly strong. Rating: 3

Schlitz Malt Liquor (Stroh Brewery, 5.9% )
The classic. Slightly darker in color, it has a medium head with a fresh, airy, light bouquet of bread dough, apple, and orange. It’s citrusy in the mouth with a light yeastiness, but finishes fast and flat as a pancake. It’s relatively fresh tasting and not apparently high in alcohol. Rating: 5

Steel Reserve “211” (Steel Brewing Company, 8.1%)
Named after the police code for armed robbery, this must-have wilding accessory is medium-gold in color, with bready aromas and an interesting caramel-like darker side. It’s toasty in the mouth with medium body and a tangy fruitiness. It seems medium strength. It’s certainly not one of the finest drinks I’ve had, but it has an interesting combination of flavors. Rating: 4

Country Club (Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, 7.2%) Tennis anyone? Foamy, yeasty, and slightly lemony, it has relatively high apparent alcohol and is otherwise light and very mild. The best thing about this country club is that a 40-oz. membership is only $1.50. Rating: 4

Elephant Malt Liquor (Brewed in Canada under supervision of Danish brewery Carlsberg, 7.2%)
O.K., so maybe it isn’t as “street” as 8-Ball, but it’s the class act of the bunch with deep, gold color and fresh, toasty and lemony flavors. It’s strong, dry, and sophisticated with a tangy and slightly metallic aftertaste, but it’s clearly superior as these things go. Rating: 7

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