A couple friends recently suggested that I write a post on malt liquor because they weren’t sure what it really was, even though we had consumed a decent amount of it in college. (Truth be told, I couldn’t drink the stuff. It was too horrid, even for my broke-ass college self.) I had my theories as to what makes malt liquor and why it was dubbed so, but I thought I’d consult Wikipedia to make sure I had my story straight.
Malt liquor is essentially a light lager that has had additional amounts of sugar, corn, or rice added to the malt wort during the brewing process. The purpose of the additional grains is to give the yeast additional fuel to produce more alcohol during fermentation.
What makes this type of beer different (and much cheaper) than other “high gravity” beers is the use of sugars and other grains, along with a lack of hops. Beer, in its purest form, uses only malted barley, so by using sugar, rice, or corn, it can produce some off flavors that are not consistent with traditional beer. In addition, little, if any, hops is used in malt liquor. Traditional high gravity beers tend to use even more hops than regular beer because the additional hops balances the intense malt character.
So, as I am sure you can conclude on your own, the purpose of malt liquor is to provide a very cheap way to get drunk. It tastes horrible and serves no other purpose.