A flavored, malt-based, alcoholic beverage.
Largely because of "malternative" products like Smirnoff Ice and Zima and an aging population past its beer-drinking prime and often preferring wine beer sales have been virtually flat in recent years, according to Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer's Insights, a trade publication.
Suz Redfearn, "It's Come to This: a Low-Carb . . . Beer," The Washington Post, May 14, 2002
Billed as a "malternative" to beer and other alcoholic beverages, Hooper's Hooch is a malt-based lemonade that proved a runaway hit last summer when it was introduced in the United Kingdom, selling more than 2 million bottles a week within two months of hitting the market.
Sara Bongiorni, "Malt-based lemonade tested in San Diego with some success," San Diego Daily Transcript, March 8, 1996
This term is a reduction of the phrase malt alternative, and it implies that these drinks are meant to be an alternative to that slightly more famous category of malt-based beverages: beer. Malternatives have been a near-fad since the early 2001 release of Smirnoff Ice, but the word itself is a few years older.
A different sense of this term a microbrewery (a term that dates from 1982) is quite a bit older. In an October 4, 1989 People magazine article titled "Radicchio ad absurdum! Or, 80 Reasons Eating Was the Great Adventure of the '80s," here was reason number 33: "Micro Breweries: Malternatives."