2.6AROMA 4/10 APPEARANCE 3/5 TASTE 4/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 12/20
If you’re a craft beer geek like me (and chances are you are by virtue of the fact you’re reading this) you probably look down your nose at the entire malt liquor style and scene. Malt liquor, much like craft beer, has its own scene of hardcore fans who appreciate the various brands and styles and can actually distinguish between good and bad malt liquor. The problem is, if you’re not part of that scene you don’t have any frame of reference - so where to start?
How about with Olde English 800, which is to malt liquor as Budweiser is to American macro lagers (which is ironic since OE800 is made by Miller). It’s easy to tell this isn’t the best example of the genre, only the most famous. I decided to try it to see what all the fuss is about and I have to say I was surprised by just how awful it was not.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I split a clear 40oz bottle with a friend into two, 24oz mugs. Upon the pour the beer took on the appearance of a typical macro lager: pee-like in appearance with a clear straw color which was bursting with effervescence. It actually produced a thick, soapy, bright white head which lasted a minute or two before mostly fizzling away. There was, however, a thin layer atop of the beer all the way to the bottom (zero lacing on the glass, though).
The aroma was not inviting, but not quite foul. There is a slight skunky scent combined with a metallic smell, as well as a general adjunct odor commonly found in the economy "light" and "ice" lagers.
I was genuinely surprised by the taste of Olde English 800 after my first swig. I was expecting a flavor that would repulse me or at least turn me off, but the actual taste was rather neutral. It’s noticeably thin and watery with an overtly grainy taste. The slightly skunky smell from the aroma was equally present in the palate which gave the beer a fairly sour taste.
What also surprised me was just how clean this brew finished. Malt liquors get their name from the fact they use next to no hops so there is no bittering agent. That’s certainly true here as OE800 was not "bitter" in the way you might associate a macro lager like Coors, Miller or Bud. Not that there was much to appreciate here. The mélange of corn, rice, and who-knows-what-else was tolerable and neutral-tasting in the way a Bud Light might be.
As the beer warmed, it began to taste more metallic and just plain dirty. I’m glad I finished mine when I did, because it was beginning to cross the line from mediocre to bad.
Malt liquor drinkers usually make a point of drinking their 40oz as cold and as fast as possible so I think I got an accurate reflection of the how this beer would be consumed. The lack of hops and watery, thin body also means a clean finish (until it warms and the aftertaste is quite sour). I might not call it "smooth," but it is drinkable while cold, but becomes much more challenging as it warms.
I’m not sure of the potency of Olde English 800, as its alcohol by volume varies by region from 5.9% to 8%. I’d estimate the bottle I drank was close to 7%, as I was quite buzzed after 20oz, but not close to being overwhelmed. The watery composition probably also explains why it didn’t weigh me down, either. I’ll bet I could drink an entire 40oz bottle "and still stand still" as they say.
As an outsider I went into Olde English 800 expecting the worst and a little relieved I didn’t receive it. Not that I found anything to appreciate here, but it was, at the very least, worth the experience. I wouldn’t recommend this beer to anyone, but I will say it’s probably not as bad as you’d think - so don’t be afraid of it.