We’re just going to get this out of the way right now: forties are the underrated workhorse of the cheap booze world. Selling for less than a cup of Starbuck’s coffee, one is usually enough to get a good buzz on without forcing you to take out a loan. Sure, they don’t taste the best, but when you’re low on dough, sacrifices must be made.
If you’re wondering what exactly a forty is, the name gets at half of the full definition. A forty is a forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor. Malt liquor, it needs to be noted, is at its simplest, strong beer that’s been made stronger by the use of adjuncts such as sugar or corn that help bump the alcohol percentage up a few ticks. In other words, it’s not liquor in the sense that rum or vodka are liquors.
But enough of that definition stuff. You probably know the term “40” and recognize its shape from iconic hip-hop names like N.W.A., Ice Cube, Snoop, Cypress Hill, Eminem, Bone Thugs, and Wu-Tang Clan (although the latter is more into flavored vodkas these days).
Heavy and sweet without much bitterness, drinking a 40 is less about the taste as it is the attitude of being strong, cheap, and rebellious. That said, a 2013 article in Punch by Besha Rodell explains that the insane success of the 40 was short-lived once “rappers moved on to cognac and Cristal.” Some states even banned the sale of forties. However, I can’t imagine a day where I don’t see a 40 in the cooler of the liquor store, and in the spirit of keeping that poor, rebellious kid alive, we’re grabbing the best 40s off the shelf to enjoy after work. Below you’ll find the top forties to try out (or to reminisce about) follow by a couple non-malt liquor forties.
In the words of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: “Bless da 40 Oz.”
Best Malt Liquor
Most beer experts agree if they’re going to drink any 40, it’s going to be a Mickey’s. Made by Miller Brewing Co., this malt liquor has 5.6 percent alcohol by volume and is crisp and generally light for a malt liquor. Indeed it is a “fine” malt liquor as its bottle says, and the judges at the GABF and World Beer Cup agree, it’s a standout brew for being, well, a malt. But you have to drink it cold, otherwise, the corn heaviness is just too heavy. The overall taste is smooth and never bitter.
Sweet and silky with a hint of lemon, a Colt 45 is not for hardcore IPA drinkers but those who enjoy a light kolsch or saison. Pick up a Colt 45 for your throwback evening (Edward 40 Hands anyone?) if you’re looking for a grainy and tart beer that doesn’t have a bold flavor. Colt 45 is one of the top two most popular malt liquors ever made – thanks, Afroman— and packs an ABV of 5.6 percent. The beer pours straw yellow with a white head, but honestly, there’s no use getting that fancy — just drink the damn thing.
Olde English 800
Back to the basics of 40 royalty, Olde English 800 is another one of the most popular names in the game. Eazy-E’s song “8 Ball” is more or less a homage to the Milwaukee-brewed malt. At 7.5 percent ABV, it’s stronger than others on the list, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to tasting good. Ask any 40 drinker which name is the best, though, and someone will throw out Olde English. Expect a smooth and rich drink that’s got a dose of subtly fruity aroma. Is it the best beer ever brewed? No. Is it a great 40? Yes.
With a name like King Cobra, you have to expect some sort of bite, but the only real bite you’ll sense is a sharpness on the nose that might be a turn-off, . When it comes to the body, King Cobra is light on the hop characteristics (as well as everything else). It doesn’t even really feel like you’re drinking a 6 percent beer – which is probably for the best. With a logo that looks like a CFL team shield, it is also one of the nicer-looking bottles on the (bottom) shelf.
Steel Reserve 211
Ah, Steel Reserve. Don’t let those fancy new “Alloy Series” beverages confuse you — they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Steel Reserve 211, the 8.1 percent behemoth that graces shelves across the country with its presence. Slightly sweet and malt-ish, Steel Reserve is a great all-around option when you need to pack a punch with as little cash as possible (as long as you’re okay not tasting any hops). Oh, and that 211? It has two meanings. First, it is allegedly the medieval symbol for steel. The second and less savory (though more entertaining) meaning is that 211 is the penal code for a robbery.
When Miller came out with Steel Reserve, the folks at Anheuser-Busch knew they needed to do something. Thus, Hurricane as born. Bearing the same alcohol and basic makeup as Steel Reserve, what it comes down to is which mega-brewery you’d like to support. Expect a sweeter body and little hop flavors from start to finish. The aftertaste might sneak up on you, but at over 8 percent, does that really matter when you’re drinking a forty?
St. Ides High Gravity
St. Ides may be the poster children for the connections between hip hop culture and forties. Everyone from Snoop Dogg to 2Pac to Macklemore have referenced the high gravity malt liquor in their works over the years. A product of the Pabst Brewing Company, fans of PBR will like St. Ides, as they have similar taste profiles. The only difference? St. Ides is like PBR on steroids at 8.2 percent ABV.
Schlitz Blue Bull
Did you know that Schlitz was once the largest producer of beer in the United States? It is no longer (having been sold a couple times, finally landing in the hands of the Pabst Brewing Company in the late 1990s), but Schlitz still persists in the form of high gravity beers and forties. The Blue Bull was Schlitz’s original forty-ouncer, but has since been followed by Bull ice and Red Bull (because no other company has ever called something by that name). A standard malt liquor, you’ll find beer flavor, beer flavor, and more beer flavor.
Bonus 40-Ounce Bottles
Forty Ounce Muscadet
The 40 got a boost in 2017 when Forty Ounce Wines came out with rosé in a 40-ounce bottle. Avocado toast-eaters flipped their shit … perhaps because they were the ones drinking 40s in high school — I mean college — and now their bougie sensibilities and street-rat tendencies converged into one. But instead of the rosé, I recommend the Forty Ounce Muscadet from 2016 that is a legit Muscadet French white wine. (No, that doesn’t mean it’s a Moscato.) Fresh lime, white peach, lemon, and gardenia fill the nose and pallet with a blossoming mineral quality. Chill that shit and wrap a paper bag around it for real 40-ounce style.
The Mexican lager Sol dates back before Ice Cube penned the romantic lines, “Get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker with malt liquor.” Sure, Sol isn’t technically a malt but it’s a 40-ouncer so who GAF. Sol is also delicious for being an “approachable” beer (aka not complex). The golden lager is light but brings in a dash of heavier malt flavor. It’s refreshing and doesn’t have the acidity of a Corona, so pour some out for the homies and down the whole bottle.
Article originally published by Jahla Seppanen on October 26, 2018, Last updated by Sam Slaughter on December 14, 2018.