The beer so strong they don’t even call it beer — they call it liquor.

The brew from the bad part of town, the staple of gangstas and punk rockers, barrios and trailer parks. Strong, cheap and raw. Served up in a big bottle that hangs in your hand like a blackjack. Named after large man-killing animals and high-powered firearms. Activist groups say it causes violence, yuppies say it tastes like poison, experienced users know it dishes out mule-kick hangovers. That’s right, baby, we’re talking malt liquor.

colt45comicColt 45

Alcohol Content: 5.61%
AKA: Billy Dog, Billy D Juice.
Rep: The grand daddy of malt liquors.
“Works every time,” as Billy Dee Williams liked to say, but works at doing what? Notorious for green batches, three different samples revealed the same result: flat, skunky and raw. This is what the President of MADD suspects malt liquor tastes like and if you want to experience the dark side of malt liquor, jump on this evil bronco.

Aesthetics: The label has changed very little since it hit the market in the 60s, and why should it? To some people it’s as recognizable and comforting as Aunt Jemima.

Trivia: Though it’s militant moniker refers to the fact it once came in a 45 ounce bottle and gives a bigger “bang” for the buck, Colt .45 has always been careful to never show a gun in their advertising, so they won’t be sued by Colt Firearms, maker of the famed Colt .45 pistol.

Flava: 5
Street Cred: 8
Power: 5


Country Clubcountryclub[1]

Alcohol Content: ?
AKA: CC, The Club
Rep: The mysterious lost dauphin of forties.
Though consistently abused as the perfectly average malt liquor, we found CC to be a diamond in the rough. Light, creamy, clean finishing and sophisticated, you can drink this malt all night and wake up feeling like a goddamn prince.

Aesthetics: The label looks like it hasn’t been reworked since the ‘50s and probably hasn’t. It includes the international symbol for booze, XXX, wearing a little crown. Which is touching, somehow.

Trivia: The true grandaddy of malt liquors, Country Club was the first successful malt liquor in America.

Flava: 8.5
Street Cred: 7
Power: 5



Crazy Horse

Alcohol Content: ?
AKA: Hoss, Crazy H.
Rep: The politically incorrect powerhouse.
It may court controversy with its name, but there’s nothing contentious about how it goes down: smooth, slightly fruity with an extremely clean, almost zinfandel finish that holds together all the way to the dregs of the bottle. Personally, we think the chief should be proud.

Aesthetics: Crazy Horse used to have the kookiest bottle in malt liquordom, bringing to mind an AriZona Ice Tea bottle (which turns out to be a sister company.) The current incarnation is more conventional, but no less controversial: There’s a picture of the chief and assorted hatchets and other Native American symbolism. And they make sure you know it’s the “Original” Crazy Horse Malt Liquor. Beware of imitators.

Trivia: “In compensation for this insult and defamation to the spirit of Crazy Horse,” G. Heileman Brewing Company, one of the early brewers of Crazy Horse, settled a lawsuit with a group of Native Americans by apologizing and compensating them with seven race horses, 32 Pendleton blankets, braids of tobacco and sweet grass. The current producer of the controversial malt liquor, Hornell Brewing, continues to fight the lawsuit and crank out the forties.

Flava: 9
Street Cred: 6
Power: 6

king-cobraKing Cobra

Alcohol Content: 5.9%
AKA: The Snake, King Konk, King Krap
Rep: Poser brew for junior high school fools.
Malt liquor for people who don’t like the taste of malt liquor, this imposter is nothing more than slightly cranked-up Busch in a bigger bottle. Comes on like Evian and finishes like tap water. This is what you buy for your little brother to get him back for hassling you. Anheuser-Busch should stick to light beer and talking lizards.

Aesthetics: While it once had a large evil snake menacing the potential buyer from the label, it now has a little baby snake almost shyly pouting near the bottom of the slick corporate facade. When it comes to playing it safe, no one backtracks like A-B.

Trivia: Again flying in the face of the Malt Likka Code, it has the gall to put a born-on date on the label.

Flava: 3
Street Cred: 2
Power: 4


Alcohol Content: 6%
AKA: Maggie Numbnuts, Milla Swilla.
Rep: Generic corporate swill.
Another watered-down, big brewery entry, this time from Miller, Magnum comes off like a plastic cup of MGD left in the sun after a kegger. Starts fine, then the chemical aftertaste slaps the malt right out of your mouth and finishes up like a weak 9 volt battery pressed against your tongue.

Aesthetics: All the slick marketing boys over at Miller could come up with was a bland, slightly Aztec design that could have been whipped up by an unmotivated art school freshman with fifteen minutes on his hands.

Trivia: The label once read “Magnum is remarkably smooth and rewarding with all the rich full character you expect from a premium Malt Liquor.” Now it doesn’t. Huh. Someone must’ve broke the news to ‘em.

Flava: 5
Street Cred: 4
Power: 4


Alcohol Content: 5.7 %
AKA: Grenade, Mighty Mouse, Sickeys.
Rep: The honky forty.
The choice of underage college students and Irish rappers everywhere, Mickey’s light, earthy, pleasantly-sweet flavor is as distinctive and appealing as its emerald-green bottle.

Aesthetics: A label as clean and green as Eire, with a flexing and furious hornet and hand-grenade imagery thrown in, just in case you thought they might be punk-ass beotches. The hornet is shrinking in size as years go on, but still, you can tell he’s been working out. Under the label you’ll find semi-comprehensible pseudo-word definitions such as: cam’-a-flu (n): Feigned illness to get out of work or a date. We think it’s tremendous that Mickey’s, in this highly competitive job market, found room for mental incompetents on its staff.

Trivia: Before it came out as a forty, Mickey’s made its name with a wide-mouth 16oz barrel-shaped bottle with a daring ‘thumb-cutter’ pull top designed to slice the drinker’s digits off.

Flava: 8
Street Cred: 7
Power: 6

oldenglish800Olde English 800

Alcohol Content: 5.86%
AKA: 8-Ball, Old E, OE, Ow-Ee.
Rep: The choice of OGs.
With a great head, voluptuous J-Lo body, smooth finish, OE is the complete package. Even though Miller recently bought the brand from Pabst, they seem to have wisely chosen not to mess with the original recipe.

Aesthetics: Classic old school label that announces you just bought 40 ounces, not once, not twice, but three times.

Trivia: OE has been praised by more rappers (without being compensated, see St. Ides) than every other malt liquor combined. Devotees past and present include Ice Cube, Eazy E, NWA, NAS, Beastie Boys, Alkaholics, TuPac and Dr. Dre.

Flava: 9
Street Cred: 9
Power 5

OEHG800-colorOlde English HG 800

Alcohol Content: 8%
AKA: Hi-8.
Rep: The best got badder.
Bittersweet as the barrio, with a slight bourbon aftertaste. Olde English rolled out this high gravity powerhouse to compete with newcomers like Steel Reserve 211. Though not as well-rounded as the original OE, this high-powered V8 of a forty gets the job done.

Aesthetics: An uninspired modification of the OE label with whirlpool imagery. But, hey, that ain’t why you buy it.

Trivia: The tag ‘800’ refers to the 8 percent content. Why the extra 0s? Why not? It worked for James Bond.

Flava: 7.5
Street Cred: 9
Power: 9

stideshg[1]St. Ides

Alcohol Content: 8.2%
AKA: Crooked I.
Rep: Marketing savvy lurking under layers of endorsement-fueled street cred.
After spending a bizzatch of green on big-name hip-hop endorsements, St. Ides jumped into the urban scene with a vengeance. Too bad they don’t spend as much on the actual brew. Slightly fruity, consistently skunky and infamous for its hangover potential, most afficionados drink it for the fame, not the flava.

Aesthetics: Flashy, “hip”, “cutting-edge” new-school label that changes at the drop of a hat. You can imagine the marketing meetings: “National Wiener Dog Month is coming up? Shit, put one of those weasel-looking fuckers on the label! Folks eat that shit up!”

Trivia: Ice Cube rather cynically summed up why he switched from Olde English in his song Steady Mobbin: “Don’t drink 8 Ball, cause St. Ides is givin’ ‘ends.” Ends as in dividends.

Flava: 5
Street Cred: 8
Power: 6

bluebull[1]Schlitz Malt Liquor

Alcohol Content: 5.9%
AKA: Blue Bull, Not My Fault Malt.
Rep: Your pop’s malt liquor.
Running amok and smashing shit like a bull in the delicate china shop that is your taste buds, Schlitz rushes in like a sweaty running back and finishes with a chemical aftertaste reminiscent of burning tires.

Aesthetics: The Bull is angry. He’s trapped against a wall. A white wall. To Schlitz’s credit, they don’t throw cheap adjectives like “premium” or “fine” on the label. All they feel the need to tell you is the name, alcohol content and size. What else do ya need to know, professor?

Trivia: Won a silver medal in the 1995 Great American Beer Festival. Which seems impressive until you remember that at this year’s festival Busch, for the love of Christ, won the gold as the best lager in America. Busch.

Flava: 6
Street Cred: 8
Power: 6

steelreserve[1]Steel Reserve 211

Alcohol Content: 8.1%
AKA: Chrome, Steely Eye
Rep: Strong enough for a homey, but made sweet for the freaks.
As you’d expect with the high-alcohol content, this Texan fatboy is quite sweet, with a spicy undertone. Champagne carbonation and a crisp aftertaste make it perfect for crackin’ forties with naughty freaks. The swill (the warmer, final third of the forty) leans toward the medicine cabinet, so tip it fast and furious.

Aesthetics: The post-industrial label will not only appeal to Gen Xers on the bum, it also informs them this premium malt liquor was brewed for almost an entire month. There is even more self-congratulatory text on the inside of the label, suitable for a little light post-swill reading.

Trivia: Contrary to popular belief, the 211 tag isn’t a reference to the California penal code for robbery, but rather a nod to the medieval symbol for steel.

Flava: 7
Street Cred: 7
Power: 9