The History of the 40
What do country clubs, Star Wars, Ice Cube, and Dogfish Brewery all have in common? Malt liquor and 40s! Since our theme somehow ended up to be 40s tonight, I gathered enough information to have some beer school. I should preface that I am not drinking a forty, because, ONE: I don’t want to, and TWO: Per Florida Statute 563.06(5)(c)(7) You can’t buy a 40 in Florida. Who knew?
What is a 40?
The “Forty” is just a forty ounce container that holds malt liquor. This comes to 2.5 pints. Malt liquor is beer that tends to be higher ABV than the average beer (not the craft TIPA at your local amazing brewery). When brewing malt liquor, as opposed to regular beer, more sugars are added (such as white sugar or corn), so there is more to be fermented, thereby getting a higher ABV, but still maintaining that macro lack of flavor taste.
When Did the 40 Show Up?
The forty did not show up until the 80s, but malt liquor showed up around 1948, and by the 50s they were full on targeting rich white people at country clubs. It was pitched as a classy beer, that you could add some ice cubes to, and drink like a cocktail. Beer sales weren’t doing the best then because a lot of people were drinking more liquor or wine, so this was an attempt to scoop up some of the market. They didn’t get the market they targeted, but realized their product was doing well at corner stores in poor black neighborhoods. They were not sure why, because it was the same price as other beverages then…but they ran with it.
Pop Culture & Marketing
A longtime ago in a corner store far far away… malt liquor marketers, changed their strategy! They now wanted to target the urban community instead of yuppies wearing sweaters over their shoulders. Colt 45 then got the infamous Billy Dee Williams to be their sponsor.. Lando himself, the king of Cloud City, was sponsoring Colt 45 malt liquor in the 80s. Who didn’t (doesn’t) love Lando?! This appealed to everyone while focusing on one of their biggest markets, the black community, and they were definitely not the only malt liquor company to do that.
*Quick sidenote on Colt 45. It was believed the label with the Colt kicking was to insinuate that the drink has more “kick” or higher ABV. This was because you can’t use higher ABV as your marketing theme. However, the creator of the label, said it was in honor of Jerry Hill from the Baltimore Colts, whose number was 45.
Around this time in the 80s, the 40 was introduced to malt liquor, but no one knows for sure exactly who did this first. By the late 80s, the two went hand in hand. Pun intended. It was viewed as a manly bottle with a manly high ABV beverage in there, and it was cheaper than the beer sitting next to it on shelves. This was especially so when sold in a forty because it was cheaper to bottle. Marketers then saw their main markets being poor urban neighborhoods and college kids.
40s In The 90s
Once again the marketers ran with it, and many popular artists were sponsoring malt liquor in 40s. From Martha Stewart’s BFF, Snoop Dogg, to Biggie, to Ice Cube,to Cypress Hill etc. Malt liquor in 40s had successfully infiltrated hip hop culture. One line by Ice Cube from a St. Ides commercial was, “Get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker, with St. Ides malt liquor.” That did not age well. Between misogynistic date rapey lines like that, and the fact that ads for these beverages were showing up on MTV when many underage kids were watching, people lost it. St. Ides even still sells malt liquor that tastes like kool-aid called Special Brew. It comes in lots of fun colors!
Many said they were disproportionately taking advantage of young black boys growing up in poor neighborhoods, and many just thought targeting kids in general was terrible. I emphasize boys because the marketing was very masculine promoting. I emphasize poor neighborhoods, because that is often where 40s can be found. Public Enemy even called that out saying you can’t find 40s in the white neighborhood.
With the attacks on malt liquor and 40s, the demand declined. They hit their peak around 1996 and before we knew it, Puff Daddy was singing about popping Dom instead chugging a 40. However, 40s are still present in pop culture today just sometimes a bit different. If you have seen How I Met Your Mother, or the most recent season of Cobra Kai…then you may be familiar with Edward Forty Hands. You tape a 40 to each hand and can’t take them off until the bottles are empty. NO MERCY!
From OE to Dogfish
If you find yourself wanting to drink a 40, but OE is not really your thing, Dogfish Brewery actually has a beer called “Liquor de Malt. It is sold in 40 ounce bottles placed in a brown paper bag with their logo on it. It comes in at 7% and has an Untappd rating of 3.58. I think I’ll pass. So, while I am not drinking St. Ides, I’ll still quote Ice Cube, here’s to a beer that will “put hair on your chest.” And for you King Cobra fans…SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS….CHEERS!