The great Aussie beer glass dilemma

04 May 11 07:00AM EST
Post by Sam Butler
Three beers

A guy walks into a bar and says to the bartender, “I’d like a beer, please.”

The bartender replies: “Sure, mate. What size?”

“What sizes have you got?”

“We’ve got pots, ponies, middies, schooners, pints, butchers, sevens, eights, tens, handles…”

Ahh, the dilemma of ordering a beer in an Aussie watering hole. You’d think glass sizing would be simple – three standardised millilitre (mL) glasses representing small, medium and large – but no, across our six states and two territories, there are no less than 19 possible terms for nine different glass measurements. And as if that’s not confusing enough, even when the term is the same, the measurement to which it refers will vary according to where you’re ordering.

Take the humble pot. In WA, a pot is a whopping 575mL of beery goodness – more than twice the size of a Victorian, Queensland or Tasmanian pot. Now consider the pint. You might think this one’s a no-brainer – after all, by definition a pint is the imperial measurement for 1/8th of a gallon, or 568mL in metric terms. Sure enough, when you order a pint in NSW or the ACT you’ll get 568mL of the golden good stuff, but order a pint in SA and you’ll be short-changed with a 425mL impostor. (Perhaps they’re too busy in Adelaide swigging back world-class shirazes to bother getting their beer measurements right.)

State by state beer size breakdown*

 New South Wales and ACT
 Pint   568ml     20 ounces
 Schooner   425ml     15 ounces
 Middy   285ml     10 ounces
 Seven   200ml     7 ounces
 Pony   140ml     5 ounces
 Schooner   425ml     15 ounces
 Handle   285ml     10 ounces
 Seven   200ml     7 ounces
 Jug   1125ml      40 ounces
 Pot   285ml      10 ounces
 Beer (some pubs)   200ml      7 ounces
 Schooner (some pubs)   425ml      15 ounces
 Middy (some pubs)   285ml      10 ounces
 Five (some pubs)   140ml      5 ounces
 Seven (some pubs)        7 ounces
 Ten (some pubs)   285ml      10 ounces
 South Australia
 Pint   425ml      15 ounces
 Schooner   285ml      10 ounces
 Butcher   200ml      7 ounces
 Pony   140ml      5 ounces
 Ten or Pot/Handle   285ml      10 ounces
 Eight   225ml      8 ounces
 Six   170ml      6 ounces
 Small Beer   115ml      4 ounces
 Schooner   425ml      15 ounces
 Pot   285ml      10 ounces
 Glass   200ml      7 ounces
 Small Glass   170ml      6 ounces
 Pony   140ml      5 ounces
 Pint   568ml      20 ounces
 Western Australia
 Pot (see comments below)   575ml      20 ounces
 Schooner   425ml      15 ounces
 Middy   285ml      10 ounces
 Glass   200ml      7 ounces
 Bobbie   170ml      6 ounces
 Pony   140ml      5 ounces
 Shetland   115ml      4 ounces

* Some of these terms may rarely be used by residents of the state concerned but they could be used by interstate or overseas visitors so we have included all the known terms and measurements. Table reproduced with permission from

The serious side of differing drink sizes

You might think this particular consumer challenge will only really trouble state-hopping American backpackers who otherwise have no difficulty getting their heads around the concept of “pot”. But there’s a serious side to the Aussie beer glass’ multiple personalities.

According to the Australian Government’s Guide to the Sale of Alcohol, “the retail sale of beer, stout, ale, brandy, gin, rum, vodka and whiskey must be sold by a volume measure”. Yet as the same guide points out, “there are no prescribed sizes for beverage measures for the sale of beer, ale and stout”. So if you’re trying to do the right thing by your liver, brain cells and/or driving skills and drink according to the national guidelines for safe alcohol consumption – that is, no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion across at least three hours – you’ll soon discover that what constitutes safe drinking in, say, SA, will actually put you over the edge in NSW or Victoria.

Let’s do the maths. A “standard drink” contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. A 285mL glass (a pot or middy in most states and territories) of full-strength beer is equivalent to 1.1 standard drinks , so one standard drink equals about 259.35mL. So let’s assume 1037mL of full-strength beer is the cut-off point before our trusty brain says, “right, responsible drinker - home time”.

Two SA pints – 850mL – of full-strength beer will keep you under 1037mL. Two NSW or ACT pints, however, will get you up to 1136mL and – bingo - over the limit. Similarly, order three pots of full-strength beer in Queensland, Tassie or Victoria and you’ll end up drinking 855mL – still room enough for a responsible “small beer” down on the Apple Isle – but knock back three WA pots and you’ll shoot up to 1725mL quicker than you can slur, “but I wash drinking reshponsibly, offisher!” (Note: it’s apparently rare for WA residents to order pots there, but that doesn’t mean an interstate or overseas visitor won’t – or that a well-meaning bartender in Perth won’t pour them a WA pot without highlighting the size discrepancy. Indeed, they may not even know there is a discrepancy.)

Northern Territory seems to be the one place where they’ve realised the value of keeping things simple, having just three beer glass sizes: schooner, handle and seven (as in ounces, a throwback to imperial days). Cross the border into Queensland, however, and you’ll have to get acquainted with up to eight possible sizes, including the very generous 1125mL jug – your four standard drinks in one face-to-the-floor serving size.

Who knows why Aussie beer glass sizes have become so convoluted. Perhaps it’s a throwback to pre-Federation days when, to all intents and purposes, Perth was as far away from Brisbane as Hobart is from Santiago. But a modern-day solution seems pretty straightforward: three glass sizes with three names only, based on those most commonly occurring across the states and territories. We could call the small (200mL) beer a seven, a medium (285mL) beer a middy (mid, middle etc) and a large beer (425mL) a schooner. For Dublin and Glaswegian tourists, we could have the extra-large pint available – which conveniently meets its literal definition of 568mL – but striving to be a nation of responsible alcohol servers, we’d keep pretty quiet about this size.

Consider this the Esperanto of Australian beer glass sizes. And a small step towards informed, responsible alcohol consumption.


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