Think back to your days of drinking malt liquor, if you’ve ever been so inclined. It’s the quintessential “bang for your buck” beverage. The price, the higher alcohol content, and the 40-ounce screw-cap are ideal for any extended drinking session. It’s sweeter because of the corn or sugar, so it can make do for someone who might not fancy himself or herself as a beer drinker. Plus, if you mix it with some orange juice, you’ve got yourself a cocktail.
Size, strength, and versatility are perhaps malt liqour's best traits. In the strength category, the style would slide nicely into the craft beer world of big, bold brews. But we drink craft beer because it's a step up from macro, in theory. And most of the craft world looks down on malt liquor.
For whatever reason, craft brewers haven’t delved into the style much. Dogfish Head released Liquor de Malt in 2009, complete with a hand-stamped brown paper bag. Others have dabbled in the style, but Founders’ DKML might have raised some eyebrows when it received a coveted spot in the barrel-aged series. That series celebrates the brewery’s 20th anniversary, so DKML fits in alongside favorites such as KBS and Backwoods Bastard, as well as newcomer Frootwood, a maple syrup bourbon barrel-aged cherry ale.
The aptly named DKML carries a tagline of “kicks you where you most expect it” and manages to pack the punch of a 40-ouncer into a 12-ounce bottle. It also is available in a 750-milliliter bottle, but the eight-ounce taproom pour would put most people over the edge. Most high-alcohol beers are intended for sharing, with the caveat that on the right night maybe you can polish off a bottle by yourself. With DKML, the 12-ounce single falls into the category of “please be advised to share this with others.”
Does malt liquor have a place among the standard bearing styles in craft beer?”
DKML pours an opaque golden yellow and arrives with a swift dose of bourbon right off the nose. A first taste, the beer gives an impression. Something like: “Holy hell this is boozy, even for 14.2%.” There's a double burn of straight alcohol, followed by bourbon.
Once you get past that strong first wave, the back end reveals the malt liquor smoothness. The barrel overshadows the base beer, which doesn’t seem to be anything spectacular but is quite smooth and a fine example of a stepped up standard malt liquor.
If the malt liquor designation scares you off, consider this adjacent to a barrel-aged pale ale, but sweeter and maltier, and obviously more potent. Because this is a sipper, DKML improves as it warms, when the bourbon burn intensifies.
The question DKML presents is: does malt liquor have a place among the standard bearing styles in craft beer? Probably not. I can’t imagine many people buying this regularly, or even semi-regularly, but it certainly is a bold and ultimately successful representation of the style, with an added bourbon kick.
If nothing else, DKML falls in line with the mindset behind drinking malt liquor – grab it on occasion, and be prepared to have a long, extended sit.