Malt beverage is an American term for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fermented beverages, in which the primary ingredient is barley, which has been allowed to sprout ("malt") slightly before it is processed. By far, the most predominant malt beverage is beer, of which there are two main styles: ale and lager. A non-alcoholic beverage brewed in this fashion is technically identical to "non-alcoholic beer." Such a beverage may be prepared by either removing alcohol from the finished product or by using a slightly altered brewing process which yields very little alcohol (technically less than 0.5% by weight).
The term "malt beverage" is often used by trade associations of groups of beer wholesalers (e.g. Tennessee Malt Beverage Association) to avoid any negative connotations associated with beer. Additionally, the term is applied to many other flavored beverages prepared from malted grains to which natural or artificial flavors have been added to make them taste similar to wines, fruits, colas, ciders, or other beverages. This subcategory has been called "malternative," as in Smirnoff Ice, or "maltini," as in 3SUM, which also has energy components like caffeine. Marketing of such products in the United States has increased rapidly in recent years.
In most jurisdictions, these products are regulated in a way identical to beer, which allows a retailer with a beer license to sell a seemingly wider product line. This also generally avoids the steeper taxes and stricter regulations associated with distilled spirits.
In Texas, such beverages must be referred to as "flavored beers" rather than "Malt Beverages".
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