It's actually more complicated than you think.
Sharing a beer may be a universal language—a frosty and familiar custom practiced by thirsty travelers the world over—but in Australia, the language of ordering a beer becomes a little less, well, universal. Sure, you could sidle up to an Aussie bar and simply ask for “a beer,” but, let’s face it, it’s never fun looking like a blow in (Australian slang for “newcomer”). So here are some handy pointers to help you get your beer on like a local down under:
1. Remember which state you’re in
I'm not talking about your mental standing, but about the six states (and two mainland territories) that make up the great nation of Australia. Accent variation may be slight between them, but beer culture is not.
Here’s how a typical bar discourse might go in, say, Melbourne, Victoria:
Bartender: “You right mate?”
Customer: “Schooner of Vic Bitter mate.”
Bartender: “Cheers mate.”
To translate, the bartender is asking the customer if he or she is alright—not to be taken literally, as in, “how are you,” but more as a friendly greeting, where a direct answer is not required. The term “mate,” while predominantly associated with males, is also commonly used for females, too. You can really never overuse the term “mate” in Australia. In more British-influenced states like New South Wales and Victoria, “Cheers” or “Ta” may be used for “thank you,” whereas in states like Queensland or South Australia, a simple “thanks” will suffice. Up in the Northern Territory, you might hear the term “bloke” substituted for “mate,” as in, “You right bloke?”
As for the that baffling sentence by the customer referencing a “schooner,” we’ll get to that in tip number two.
2. Know your glass sizes
The real test of an Aussie beer aficionado is knowing which beer glass term to use, and where to use it. One size does not fit all in Oz, but to simplify things, let’s break it down into two measurements: large (425ml/15 fl. oz.) and small (285ml/10 fl. oz.).
Residents of Victoria and South Australia call the large sized beer a “pint,” while in all other states it’s called a “schooner” (pronounced “skooner”).
There’s more variation with the smaller size. Folks in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and Western Australia call it a “middy"; Victoria and Queensland locals dub it a “pot”; Tasmanians a “ten”; Northern Territorians a “handle”; and, rather confusingly, South Australians term it a “schooner."
In all states asking for a “pint” will get you a 570 ml/20 fl. oz. glass except for in South Australia where locals like to break the mold and call it an “imperial pint.” There are other less-common sizes like the 140ml/5 fl. oz. which some states rather adorably call a “pony”. Meanwhile, asking for a “seven” in New South Wales and Northern Territory, or simply a “glass” in Western Australia and Victoria will get you 200ml/7fl. oz. of suds.
Confused? No worries. When in doubt, order a bottle!
3. Don’t forget to shout!
No, I don’t mean yell, although that type of shouting is certainly commonplace in an Aussie bar. I’m referring to buying a round, an important custom when drinking with mates down under. Indicate to your drinking companions that it’s your turn to buy the group drinks with a resounding “My shout!” Don’t worry, most Aussies are “true blue” and will shout you back.
4. Out and About
Experience another part of Aussie beer culture with a visit to the “bottle-o” (drive-thru bottle shop) where you can grab a few “tinnies” (cans of beer) without ever leaving your car. Don’t forget your “stubby holder” (koozie) to keep them cold in the hot Aussie sunshine!
Christina Pickard is an American-born professional wine writer and educator who, after living abroad for 13 years in both Britain and Australia, recently made a move back to her home country.