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Cheap Beer Review: Olde English 800 is better as a memory than as a beer

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SCENE runs valuable coverage of beer and the beer industry in the form of beer industry insider Malissa Gatton’s column, Beer From Here. This is not that. This is Cheap Beer Review, an occasional feature in which I extol the virtues (or bemoan the failings) of various cans of pale yellow swill. It is a dumb feature, and I love it.

The beer: Eventually I had to write about Olde English 800, the malt liquor that got me through college. Wait. “Got me through”? I meant “got me thrown out of.” I drank a lot of it. And I skipped a lot of classes. They let me back in on appeal, and I eventually graduated. So I guess I have mostly fond memories of Olde English, even though it’s objectively terrible and nearly cost me my education.

Introduced in 1964 as one of the early America malt liquors, it’s been owned by a few companies over the years and has been owned by Miller since 1999, which is the same year Conan O’Brien got Martha Stewart to drink a 40 of it on TV. (Look it up on YouTube.)

The stats: 7.5 percent alcohol by volume (for the West Coast version; regional variations exist), 202 calories per 12-ounce serving, plus 13.4 grams carbohydrates and 1.4 grams protein. That ABV number is key. In the days before the craft-beer explosion, you couldn’t get high-alcohol beer except in malt liquor. And OE, as all of us cool idiots called it, had the highest at 7.5 percent, just beating St. Ides’ 7.3 percent and absolutely dwarfing Colt 45’s 5.6 percent.

Official description: “Olde English 800 is one of America’s leading malt liquor brands. Commonly referred to as ‘OE800,’ it offers smooth, rich taste with a slightly fruity aroma that is a favorite among malt liquor drinkers. OE wears the crown because it is the King of Malt Liquors.”

My description: If you had asked me the first 100,000 adjectives that come to mind when tasting OE, I would not have included “fruity.” They must mean “fruity” as in “tastes like hot dog water.” Anyway, I can’t believe I used to drink 40s of this several times a week.

I bought a six-pack of 16-ounce cans for this review, and I am going to have five 16-ounce cans left over. That said, OE is not as bad as I feared. The smaller size helped. After all, it was never the first part of an OE 40 that was the problem; it was the last inch or two in the bottle — the lukewarm, backwash-infused homestretch — that was the real struggle.

Additional thoughts: The 40s are in plastic now, not glass. That means the younger generation will never know the thrill of nonchalantly tossing an empty one over your shoulder as you keep walking, then hearing that satisfying crash a moment later. I used to love that. I was a bad person in many ways.

Overall rating: 3 out of 10. I’ll always have a place for OE in my heart. But I no longer have a place for it in my fridge. Also, it loses a point because when I was 20 I got my fake ID confiscated while trying to buy 10 cases of OE 40s for a party.

Reach Pat Muir at

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