Premium malt beverages rated, from worst to first.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
July 24 2002 12:24 PM

Malt Me!

Are premium malt beverages an acceptable malternative to sobriety?

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

After being bombarded on television for weeks by ads for Citrona and Captain Morgan's Gold, I decided I had to check out all the new malt beverages. Were they just a vehicle for liquor companies wanting to get their brand names on television, or were they a legitimate new beverage category that a diligent college student such as myself should include in his repertoire? Fortunately, this was a voyage of discovery that Slate was willing to fund, leaving me in the prelapsarian position of having mine and my friends' inebriation underwritten by Microsoft. Score!

In the beverage industry, these malt beverages are known as "malternatives" because they're malt-based alternatives to beer. By virtue of their customary sweetness and their role as alcohol-for-people-who-don't-like-beer, they are often viewed (though never marketed) as girly drinks. Ads position them as classy quaffs for hip twentysomethings, a far cry from dirt-cheap malt liquors like Olde English 800, Colt 45, and King Cobra, which are usually found in decidedly non-classy settings like 40-ounce bottles, brown bags, Method Man lyrics, and my MicroFridge at school.

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So, a dozen classmates and recent college grads (five ladies and seven guys, including me) came over to sample the beverages and discuss if it really is socially acceptable for guys to drink this stuff. The potables were tasted blind and then rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 delicious and 1 disgusting. As the alcohol intake increased, impromptu golf tips and singing along to Chronic 2001 distracted some panelists. Also, handwriting legibility declined drastically. Based on what I could decipher, here they are, from worst to first.

Captain Morgan Gold: Fool's Gold
Average Score: 4.6
The Captain got such a hostile response that it's downright insubordinate. The spiced-rum odor is strong, but the taste is weak and watered-down. Probably intended to taste like the novice drinker's old favorite, rum and coke, the painfully sweet drink instead ended up being compared unfavorably by testers to maple syrup, Vanilla Coke, Kahlua, and an ungodly mix of Tab and cough syrup.

Guy Suitability: "I'd rather walk the plank than drink this, but the Captain's appearance on the bottle adds a sufficient amount of masculinity."

Zima: Dizguzting
Average Score: 4.7
The forebear to today's bumper crop of malternatives gets marks ill-befitting its trailblazing heritage. Its taste was likened to soap, really bad sake, rotten Sprite, fermented Robitussin, and "decay." The most positive comment: "Bubbly, nice. … I said 'I like this one.' People asked what's wrong with me."

Guy Suitability: "No guy should or could ever rock this."

Mike's Hard Iced Tea: Flat, Taxing
Average Score: 4.9
The sole drink without carbonation, the hard iced tea's flatness is described as "disturbing" by many a taster. It does taste like iced tea—supersweet, supernasty iced tea. "The worst taste I've ever had. Wow." Perhaps the most revealing comment: "I would not drink based on ALL the negative comments and reactions. Sorry." (Thanks, Kim!)

Guy Suitability: "I can't see a guy or girl drinking this."

Hooper's Hooch Hard Lemonade: Cloudy Hoochie-Mama
Average Score: 5.2
Hooch's cloudiness resulted in consternation and lame attempts at an explanation: "cloudy color probably designed to mask sinister cough-drop taste." The taste is alcohol-heavy and very, very bitter, "so tart it makes my tongue squirm."