For the past few weeks I've been reviewing all kinds of interesting and unique beers—from German imports to local ciders—and I've truly enjoyed all these sophisticated brews. The truth is, however, that deep down I'm just a simple man, with simple tastes.
I love a good Hefeweizen or a fine Belgian ale, but it doesn't really take all that to satisfy me. In fact, the first memory I have of drinking that doesn't include my mom saying, 'that's enough!' involved malt liquor. It came in a big bottle—40 ounces to be exact. It was love at first sight.
If you've never seen a 40-ounce of malt liquor before, or '40' as they are colloquially referred to as, it is quite a sight. To fit all 40 ounces of liquid, 40s come in comically large glass bottles; usually with a slowly tapering neck so that you are often either grasping it way at the top, or with two hands. Such containers are also used to hold beer, but this is really just a shell of a 40—without its soul. Don't be fooled; for a 40 to be a 40 it has to be malt liquor.
Besides the 40's distinctive look, it is impossible to discuss them without mentioning some of the associations and stigmas they carry. In particular, many individuals with a passing knowledge of 40s may consider them to be "hood" or "ghetto," but this is an unjust generalization. In reality, anyone can partake in 40s, and I've seen people from all walks of life enjoy these golden elixirs.
In fact, some of the very reasons people pigeonhole 40s are the same reasons they are so accessible. At around two to three dollars a bottle they are extraordinarily economical, with a generally smooth finish that is highly carbonated and low on hops. It is important, however, to recognize one of the principal tenets of 40-drinkers—all 40s are not created equally. But as long as you follow some experienced 40 advice you can steer clear of any 40 faux pas.
The two most important factors to consider when drinking any 40 are temperature and carbonation. There is nothing like the searing hiss of a fresh 40 being cracked, but as time goes by this precious carbonation will gradually wane, and while there is a great disparity in taste among 40s, you don't want to imbibe any of them flat. That is why it is generally suggested that if you open a 40, finish it. Not everyone is built to finish a whole one, so plan accordingly.
Furthermore, it's important to remember that the only thing worse than a flat 40 is a warm one. Keep 40s as cold as possible before serving and try to maintain that chill.
With those basic rules of 40-drinking down, you can go out and try the multitude of different brands out there. Different regions, and even stores, have different stocks, so go out there and explore. Probably the most common in these parts is Colt 45, endorsed by Billy Dee Williams a.k.a Lando Calrissian from Star Wars (look up the commercials). In general, I think this is a good entry-level 40. The taste is fairly innocuous, if not great, with a more moderate alcohol content.
Some of the more alcoholic 40s like Steel Reserve, Hurricane, and Schlitz Bull Ice can be very harsh, particularly at first, and thus off-putting for more inexperienced, or casual 40-drinkers. Usually one can find these brands, along with Magnum, pretty easily in this neck of the woods, but the real adventure is searching out rarer ones.
When it comes to 40s, it is often the most unassuming, hidden places that produce the finest products. During a recent trip to Portland, for instance, I stumbled across one I'd never seen before called Crazy Stallion at a slightly dilapidated grocery store. The overall product was not what I would describe as top notch, but the wild label and perplexingly large mouth certainly made it a worthwhile purchase.
Indeed, there is such a wide array of 40s brands that one is bound to find something new with a little investigation—maybe even coming across a real legend like Olde English.
No matter what 40 you decide to try, though, there is one suggestion every 40-drinker must try—add orange juice. I can't tell you the science behind it, but all I know is if you drink down to the label and fill it back up with some OJ, you are left with a delicious creamsicle-flavored beverage where an ordinary 40 once stood. It's called a "brass monkey." It's delicious.