Alcohol and Drinking in Australia

Are you wondering what people drink in Australia, or what to expect? Do you want to know about pubs & clubs, what to wear, or what you'll pay? Never heard of a "Bottle-O"? Or want to learn about Australian beers & wines?

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Beers & Wines   Pubs & Clubs   What's a Bottle-O?   What's the cost?   What's goon?

Beers & Wines

A photo of a Cascade (Tasmania, Australia) beer poured into a beer glass
Cascade, classic Tasmanian beer!

Drinking beer has been part of the Australian culture for many years, and Australia has been promoted to the rest of the world as a beer drinking nation (think of the Fosters ads of the 80's and early 90's). While that certainly has been true of the typical Australian in the past, in recent years there has been a strong trend moving away from beer drinking and the consuming of other alcohols, especially wine, and especially while eating.

Australian Beers

Despite the above statement, Australians still consume a lot of beer. After a long day in the sun, it is hard not to open an ice cold beer direct from the fridge!

The typical Australian "heavy" beer (called heavy because of its larger alcohol percentage) is typically between 4.8 - 5.5% alcohol. There are also two other types of beer, the "middy" (short for mid-strength) with a typical alcohol content of 3.5, and the "lite" (short of light or low strength) and ranges between 2 - 3%. Because Australian alcohol is taxed by percentage of alcohol, middy's and lite's cost less than full strength beer.

In all capital cities most pubs will have a large variety of beers for you to pick from, and it is not unusual to have up to 10 beers "on tap" (on tap beer refers to beer that is poured from the keg or barrel, as opposed to beer you buy in a bottle or can), and indeed some larger pubs that promote themselves as being beer specialists will have 20 or more on tap beers for you to choose from.

A selection of some common Australian beers
A selection of some common Aussie beers
that are not so Australian any more

Unfortunately in the recent past Australia's two largest brewers have been sold to overseas companies. What was once the typical Australian beer, while still heavily promoted, sold, and drank, is not longer Australian. This includes popular mass-produced brands such as VB (Victorian Bitter), Carlton Draught, XXXX, and Fosters.

But not to worry. While in other countries, for example Germany, where the trend over recent years is that the number of micro breweries is in steady decline, the evolving Australian palate and demand for more, and better, choices of beer means the number of micro (and midsized) breweries is actually increasing, producing many excellent beers to choose from.

So let your taste buds run riot, there are so many good Australian beers to test and try! To find out what beer costs, jump to the What's the cost? section!

Australian Wines

Australia has some exceptional wines. Australian red wines, especially the Shiraz variety, is known around the world by wine buffs to be some of the best on the market. It is all due to a combination of the hot weather conditions, the high concentration of minerals in the soil, and obviously the high standards involved in its productions.

Some excellent white wines also exist, particularly from Victoria and Tasmania, where climates are cooler. And while you're in Australia you should take the time to sample some white wines from New Zealand, they produce some excellent wines.

I will be coming back shortly to expand upon this, but see the What's the cost? section for an idea of what wine will cost you.

Pubs & Clubs

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Just like how the Australian beer culture has been changing over recent years, so has the pub and club scene. While a couple of decades ago, if someone was to say "let's go to the local pub" you could typically expect to find a bar selling 2 or 3 different beers, a bunch of drunks sitting around, a juke box blasting out some kind of rock or country music, and a pool table for entertainment.

But this has certainly changed and doesn't represent the typical city pub now. Although, get far enough into the outback and you can still expect to find the above mentioned scenario!

Today many pubs will have a multitude of on tap beers to pick from, and having up to 10 to choose from is not uncommon anymore. You'll also find a lot of these pubs will have restaurants where you can get a high quality meal. While 20 years ago it was almost impossible to find a pub serving more the 1 red and 1 white wine (often just goon wine - see the What's a goon bag? section for more details) today many pubs serve a large variety of speciality and boutique wines.

There is no real "this is an Australian pub" definition anymore. Fierce competition, and striving to be unique and different as marketing points, has resulted in a great pub culture with almost every pub having its own unique identity. It sounds like it is all good things to say about Australian pubs, but one of the truly tragic results of recent changes is many pubs which used to offer live music have replaced the music/band room with Pokies (slot machines), which you can find packed with people just throwing their money away in the hope of getting a big win on the machines.

Clubs on the other hand, are a bit like what you expect anywhere in the world. Often overpriced and with a charge just to get in the door, they blare out music at full throttle making it virtually impossible to hear what your friend is shouting into your ear!

But if you like to dance the night away then obviously a club is where you want to be.

  • General notes about pubs & clubs:
  • 1. Most clubs, and even some pubs, will have a ban on flip flops.
  • 2. Often females will be granted entry if with wearing classy sandals with straps, but if they have a flip flop ban and you are a guy, forget the sandals or flip flops, you won't get in unless you have shoes on!
  • 3. If you are male, forget wearing a singlet to a club, you generally won't get it.
  • 4. Many pubs turn into mini clubs after 8 or 9pm, meaning that often you will be fine drinking there during the day in flip flops, shorts and a singlet, but you may be asked to leave at a certain time in the evening if you don't meet the dress code.
  • 5. Some clubs will have dress codes/restrictions, meaning you HAVE to be wearing closed footing (so girls, forget those sandals). There is no real rules here, some will require guys to be wearing a shirt with a collar, others will refuse entry if you are wearing jeans, and yet others will refuse you if wearing sneakers, but perhaps street shoes such as Converse and Vans are okay, or perhaps not, and others require leather shoes and nothing else. The best thing ask your friends first if you know where you are going to go, and if you don't wear some nice shoes, a shirt with a collar (it doesn't have to be a business shirt, a polo shirt is fine, just so long as it has a collar) and a nice pair of jeans should get you into most places
  • 6. Australians, especially the women, like to get dressed up before heading to a pub. So don't be surprised to see females getting around in skirts or dresses rather than jeans and a t-shirt. If the latter is more your scene, don't worry, there are still many pubs that promote the more casual atmosphere.
  • 7. And watch out how much alcohol you consume. Clubs especially, will kick you out at the first sign of drunkenness. This can include just stumbling once, or dropping a beer. In an effort to ensure there are no fights between rowdy males they can, and will, kick you out at the slightest excuse. Same applies on trying to get into a club, if you're stumbling in the queue, or slurring your words it is unlikely they will grant you entry.

What's a Bottle-O?

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In Australia there are many Bottle Shops, where you can buy alcohol. These are typically referred to by Australians as the "Bottle-O" (or Bottle-Os for plural). Examples of this in action would include:

  • "When does the Bottle-O close Jeff?"
  • "I went to all the Bottle-Os, but I couldn't find the vodka that you like!"
  • "I'm just popping up to the Bottle-O to grab a few beers, do you want a 6-pack?

Having a Bottle-O doesn't sound that amazing does it, virtually every country sells alcohol in shops, so what's exceptional about Australian Bottle-Os?

Many of them are actually Drive-Thru. Yes, that's right, just like a McDonalds or the KFC drive-thru! These bottle shops are also referred to as Drive-Thrus, so you will hear people ask "Is the Bottle-O a Drive-Thru"?

Most of them will also have a parking bay so that you can get out of your car and have a good look around before making your decision on what to buy. But, if you already know what you want, you can drive in get your alcohol and drive out again without ever leaving your car.

Is it a matter of Australians being lazy, or just a matter of convenience? No-one really knows, but everyone who has ever tried the Drive-Thru will have to agree that it is a great idea. Many Australians are baffled as to why other countries have not adopted the idea.

What's the cost?

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Now this is a bit of a contentious issue, and many overseas visitors are staggered by the cost of alcohol in Australia. Heavy taxes (which are worked out by the percentage of alcohol) and the fact Australians have a large disposable income compared to many other countries mean that prices a very high. Here is what you can typically expect to pay in Australia for alcohol (Note: in rural or remote areas it may be higher).

Item Price
A six pack
(6 beers)
$15+ for common Australian beer, or $20+ for boutique or import beer.
A slab of beer
(24 beers)
$45+ for common Australian beer, or $60+ for boutique or import beer.
A goon bag
(4 litres wine)
$10+ a bargain for backpackers and students!
A cheap bottle of wine About the $10 range is normal for a good cheap wine, but you can find bottles for $5.
A good bottle of wine $18+ if fairly normal for a good wine, although like all wines around the world you can pay a ridiculous price on some bottles.
A bottle of spirits
$45 for something standard like Jack Daniels, Smirnoff, Jim Beam, etc. Other more exotic bottle increase in cost.
A pint in a pub
$8-10 is not unusual, although some pubs run specials for $5-6 per pint.
A pot of beer in a pub (275ml) $4 (+/- 50 cents) is pretty normal.
A glass of wine
(100 - 200ml)
$5-8 is pretty standard for a house wine in a pub. Depending on the establishment the house wine could be something rather good, or it could be goon wine. Expect to pay more in a high end restaurant, but the quality will be better.

What's a goon bag?

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If you've been reading this entire page, you will have noticed "goon wine" mentioned several times, and you must be wondering what it is!

Goon wine, also often referred to as a Goon Bag, is a 4 or 5 litre bag of cheap wine that is packaged in a box. It has a little tap on the bag (which pokes through the side of the box) which you can pour wine out of.

Typically they cost between $10 - 15 making them extremely popular with students, back packers, or anyone else on a tight budget. However, as is so often the case with things in life, you get what you pay for - the quality and ingredients used to make it are sub-par, and if you drink enough of it expect a cracking hangover the next morning.

The goon bag is an Australian invention, and has started to been seen in other countries. One of the appeals to people, apart from the low cost, is that girls can take the bag out of the box and then put it into their handbag, allowing them to sneak it into a pub or club. And once empty you can blow the bag up as a pillow!

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