Flavored Malt Beverage (FMB), an alcoholic beverage made from original base containing malt, but then stripped of malt character and then flavored. These drinks are also referred to as flavored alcohol beverages and colloquially called “alcopops” or “malternatives,” among numerous other names. In the United States, FMB production is regulated by the federal government and must be made from a so-called malt base; the malt base itself must be made from at least 25% malt and contain at least 7.5 pounds of hops per 100 barrels of finished product. Most important, of the final alcohol in the product, at least 51% must be derived from malt base. Other countries make FMBs, but only the United States has this strict stipulation about the source the alcohol can come from and the use of hops. In other countries, producers are free to add grain alcohol to their FMBs without penalty, depending on the location.

FMBs originated in the 1990s when producers realized that a malt-based flavored beverage was taxed at the same rate as beer, whereas a spirit-based or wine-based flavored beverage was taxed at significantly higher rates. See taxes. Additionally, producers exploited a loophole in the tax law—malt-based alcoholic drinks had no upper limit for flavor addition. In this regard, an acid, usually citric acid, was diluted in ethanol to the point where the ethanol was no longer potable, usually 10%. This solution was no longer viewed as ethanol, but rather as “citric acid flavoring,” and added to the product to increase the alcohol and minimize the malt or beer flavor. After several years the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau closed this loophole by implementing a limit stating that no more than 49% of the final alcohol in the product could come from flavoring.

FMB production starts out much like a beer and then goes through treatment (carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, etc) to remove as much beer and malt flavor and color as possible. The clear, colorless treated malt base is then sweetened, usually with high-fructose corn syrup, and then flavored. Typical alcohol by volume is between 4% and 7%. Top-selling FMB brands in the United States include Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. In Europe and Canada, these and other similar products are usually made with spirit bases because other countries offer insufficient tax advantages to FMBs to make them viable products.