Being a constantly-updated guide for non-Aussies on the basics of beer down under.
The Sydney Drinking Scene
But most Sydneysiders, like the citizens of most cities, are not greatly concerned with poetry. When work is done they prefer to crowd into the bare-tiled bars where the barmaids, half-sister, half-harlot – how well Ray Lawler described them in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll! – set out the schooners of strong, cold beer on the sopping counter.
In the working-class suburbs wives lead home their husbands, genially or belligerently drunk, from the pubs where they have stayed too long. Older men, whose wives have long ago died or left them or ceased to care, sober up on the steps of the pub or sleep it off in quiet corners. In the parks the more hopeless cases still, the hardened meth-drinkers and down-and-outs, wrap their newspapers round their legs and thank God they live in a warm climate. For alcohol is still a potent curse in Sydney, where men drink unashamedly for the pleasure of getting drunk.
from ‘Australian Accent‘ by John Douglas Pringle (Chatto and Windus, 1958)
‘We’ve got ponies, glasses, middies an’ pots, see,’ the first man said. ‘Now a pony’s four ounces –’
The second man said, ‘Two to four.’
‘All right, two to four. But who the hell drinks two’s? You keep quiet while I clue him up. A glass is five ounces, a middy is seven ounces, an’ a pot’s ten. Got it? That’s all you have to remember.’
The second man said, ‘A middy’s a schooner in the bush.’
‘I know that. Don’t confuse him. We’re not in the bloody bush, you nong.’
There was at one time a pub near the abattoirs. Employees were accustomed to visit it in their lunch hour, and because of the Australian custom of ‘shouting’, and the limited time available, they preferred to drink small beers. Six-ounce glasses were the smallest the publican had, and so a six-ounce glass became known as a butcher.
During my stay there I found butchers to be a popular container size in Adelaide. Others available were ponies, four ounces; schooners, nine ounces; and pints. But a pint, which is by definition twenty ounces, is not so in South Australian pubs. For some strange reason, known only to South Aussies, a pint of beer is fifteen ounces.
I had already learnt Melbourne glass sizes and nomenclature, so different from Adelaide. One asks for a four ounce, a small beer, or a pot. There are no butchers. A request for a small beer produces seven ounces, and for a pot, ten.
There was a barmaid on duty. ‘Yes?’ she said.
‘A pot of beer, please.’
‘A pot? You just in from Melbourne?’
‘We don’t have pots. What you want is a ten ounce.’
‘Er – thank you.’
She began to draw it. I asked her, ‘What other sizes of beer do you have?’
‘Fours, sixes and eights,’ she said.
‘And – er – what do you call them?’
‘What do we call them? Fours, sixes and eights. What would you call them?’
‘I’ll call them fours, sixes and eights. That’s a very simple system.’
‘Yes,’ she said, putting my ten-ounce glass in front of me. ‘Saves confusion.’
‘If I were to ask for a glass of beer, without nominating the size, what would I get?’
‘You’d get a six,’ she said.
‘Don’t mention it. I like to contribute to the education of foreigners.’
The barmaid was decorative, too, young and mini-skirted and shapely. I told her I would like a small glass of beer.
‘One small beer,’ she said, attending to me.
I said, ‘I’m a stranger in Brisbane. What size beers do you serve, and what do you call them?’
She said, ‘Five ounce, eight ounce and ten ounce. We call them small beers, beers and pots.’
‘I see. Well, could you make that a beer? Five ounces is a little too small, I think.’
‘No trouble,’ she said.
Putting it in front of me, she said, ‘There you are. Eight ounces. Mind you, in the bush you’ll only get seven ounces. They call it a seven.’
‘Do you know the reason for that?’
‘They reckon it’s the freight,’ she said.
New South Wales
The various draughts were dispensed in seven, ten, fifteen and twenty-ounce containers, called respectively sevens, middies, schooners and pints. The timid could also get fives.
All glass size information from ‘It’s Your Shout, Mate‘ by John O’Grady (Ure Smith, 1972). The Six O’Clock Swill takes no responsibility for any derision you might experience from bar staff if using the above as a guide.