In Australia, beer is called beer. Not only is Foster’s not ‘Australian for beer’, but Foster’s isn’t even sold in Australia. So in fact, Foster’s is Australian for ‘beer sold outside Australia’.
Australians are known for their prodigious drinking of beer, but the country is currently only the fourth-largest consumer of beer per capita, reflecting both the recent inroads made by wine and the fact that Australians are getting soft.
Beer has been popular in Australia ever since Captain James Cook brought beer aboard the Endeavour as a means of preserving drinking water during the long voyage. Australia’s beer aficionados have been trying to defend their consumption as necessary for life-saving hydration ever since.
The first beer to be officially brewed in Australia was made from corn that had been rendered bitter with cape gooseberry leaves. This unpleasant brew was quickly superseded by proper beer, for obvious reasons, although several hipster breweries have recently attempted to bring it back as an ‘artisanal botanical’ variety.
While convicts and settlers alike brewed their own beer for personal consumption, the popularity of rum soon superseded it, and the stronger liquor became the de facto currency in New South Wales. This led to beer consumption being promoted by authorities as the healthier and safer alternative, although this was the last time an Australian government tried to encourage its citizens to drink more beer.
In recent years, microbreweries have taken off around the country, as beer aficionados have enthusiastically embraced the campaign to transform a traditional working-class beverage into something snobby and expensive.
Homebrewing is also increasingly popular, as devotees attempt to produce very cheap beer at the expense of their free time and the resulting flavour.
Today, beer remains an essential part of both Australian culture and many of the nation’s most troubling health statistics. It’s still most Australian drinkers’ tipple of choice, and responsible for a significant proportion of obese Australians’ guts.
Beer remains as Australian as complacency and casual racism, and is often complicit in both.
Major breweries and brands
Tooheys—available in New (lager), Old (dark ale) and Older (customers).
VB—lager that’s almost as bitter as a Victorian who’s just discovered their state beer sponsors the NSW Origin team.
Coopers—its many years of success as an authentic Australian family-made beer, positioned in the sweet spot between the mass market and boutique or craft beer, ended overnight after its controversial partnership with the Bible Society led to plummeting sales in the secular market, which drinks a great deal more than the fundamentalist Christian market.
XXXX—a beer that has long assisted Queenslanders in developing XXXXL beer guts.
Carlton Draught—the first-choice beverage for Melbourne gangland wakes.
Foster’s Lager—Australia’s most famous and popular beer, except with actual Australians.
Hahn Premium—refers to what you pay.
Swan Lager—the iconic Perth beer, and a symbol of Western Australia, now produced in South Australia.
Resch’s—NSW stalwart known as the ‘beer they drink round here’ when all the other taps are dry.
Cascade—Australia’s oldest brewery and the only one named after the end product of beer consumption.
Australia has as many different beer sizes as it has beer ‘experts’ who will explain their hobby to you in such painful detail that all the fun of drinking is lost. Here are some of the terms in use around the country, arranged from small to large.
Pony—order one and you’ll receive either a 115 millilitre glass or an actual pony, depending on where in the country you are.
Butcher—a term used in Adelaide, where, given the region’s distinctive pastimes, most slang terms are in some way derived from murder.
Bobbie—either a 170 ml glass in Perth, or someone who’ll arrest you if you have too many.
Glass—200 ml in Melbourne, or the thing you drink out of anywhere else. The term is to be avoided outside Melbourne, which is the only place hipster enough to permit drinkers to order beer as though it were wine.
Middy—will get you either a 285 ml glass or a geeky conversation about electronic music.
Pot—the standard 285 ml size in Victoria, so called because of early hipster bars where they served the drink in actual flowerpots. It’s crucial to only discuss your ‘pot consumption’ in Melbourne or Brisbane, because anywhere else you risk arrest.
Ten—another term for 285 ml of beer, used in Hobart. Ordering this in any other city will get you at least 2850 ml.
Half-pint—yet another way to order 285 ml. Exercise caution, however, as this is also an insult.
Schmiddy—nobody would ever order this 350 ml size due to it being a lame term for a schooner-middy hybrid, but in NSW you may find it’s the only size on offer at overpriced bars that charge schooner prices for a smaller glass. If you are served schmiddys, the best approach is to leave immediately and find a less pretentious venue.
Schooner—425 ml in most of the east coast, but 285 ml in Adelaide for no discernible reason. In Melbourne,
this term will establish you as a quirky devotee of old-school naval jargon, after which someone will ask you if you want to work in their HMS Pinafore-themed laneway bar.
Pint—a standard imperial measure, this is 570 ml everywhere. Except Adelaide, where it’s 425 ml, because, as this list has already established, you really shouldn’t drink in South Australia, as it’s just too annoying in terms of the size variations—and, besides, you’ll want to keep your wits about you.
Imperial pint—how South Australians order 570 ml, except that we’ve already established you’re not drinking there.
These highly variable measures are notoriously complicated, so the best approach is simply to ask for a beer, note what size they give you, and then on your next trip to the bar, order another beer. The end result will be that no matter where you are in the country, you’ll find yourself drinking a beer.
This is an excerpt from Dominic Knight’s book Strayapedia, available at most of Australia’s ever-dwindling collection of lovely, local, irreplaceable bookshops – or signed copies can be obtained from his website.