If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you buy a bottle of malt liquor but it’s made by a craft brewery, does it still taste like gasoline?
Malt liquor is famously awful-tasting; a drink you only buy because it’s cheap and high in alcohol. While for a lot of people Colt 45, St. Ides, Mickey’s, Steel Reserve, King Cobra, and Olde English may bring up good (hazy) memories, the warm fuzziness usually isn’t associated with the taste. Though the brewing process for malt liquor is similar to traditional lager, the addition of cheap adjuncts (like rice, corn or sugar) to the malt inexpensively ups the alcohol content. These additions mute the light malt and hop flavors usually found in lager, replacing them with an overly sweet, grainy flavor.
Enter craft breweries. If anyone can make a drinkable malt liquor, it’s them. Right? In the last few years, Dogfish Head, Listermann and Rogue have all put out craft versions of the style. While still using corn and other adjuncts, these breweries focus on using high-quality ingredients, and brewing with traditional lager yeasts, grains and methods. While the reviews of the beers certainly aren’t glowing, they do seem to suggest that craft brewers offer a higher quality product than the traditional macro offerings.
One of the main reasons I picked up Rogue‘s malt liquor is, of course, the novelty. I haven’t had malt liquor in years, and can’t really say I’ve ever had a good one. Once I found out that one of my favorite breweries made something in the style, I had to seek it out. While the beer isn’t available here in Maine, I picked up a bottle in Portsmouth at Gary’s Beverages for $4.50.
Tipped into a pint glass, the Dad’s Little Helper pours a super-faint yellow. The brew is crystal clear, with just a touch of chill haze that clears as the glass warms. The pour results in a bubbly, frothy white head that fizzes down to a thin lace in a hurry. Carbonation of Dad’s Little Helper is pretty active, a lot like what you’d see in any macro brew. The nose is very sweet, and there is a more than a hint of grain alcohol. Beyond the cloying sweetness, there isn’t much for malt or hops – just enough that you can tell they’re there.
The taste is, again, very sweet. Corn and grain are really all that come through in the flavor, and the taste isn’t too dissimilar from a macro like PBR. Hops only show up slightly in the finish. The syrup-sweetness translates into a thick, kinda corn syrupy mouthfeel, with some moderate carbonation that isn’t unpleasant. Letting the beer warm up closer to room temperature really improves the flavor, with the alcohol and corn mellowing out, the grain shining through a bit more, and the hops adding some spiciness and bitterness. While I wasn’t sure if I’d even finish this brew after the first few trying sips, by the end it had truly grown on me.
Reviewing this beer is really tough for me, since I almost always rate beer on a general “likeability” curve rather than as an example of the style. In terms of beer in general, Dad’s Little Helper is, for me, take it or leave-it. While I liked the brew a lot more after it warmed (and would have it on tap at Novare), I probably won’t make a trip down to New Hampshire to get it again. As an drinkable example of the malt liquor style, Dad’s Little Helper is probably the best out there. Certainly, it is the best tasting, most drinkable malt liquor I’ve ever had.
If only for the novelty of a craft-brewed malt liquor, I’d suggest getting a bottle, pouring some out for your homies, and giving Dad’s Little Helper a shot.