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Key facts about comparing alcohol:
- The most important factor you need to consider when shopping for alcohol is the type of drink you want. For example, beer, cider, wine or spirits.
- You can then consider a wide range of other factors to help you choose a beverage, from the style of drink to its alcohol content.
- But at the end of the day, what it really comes down to is taste.
What are my main options?
Spend a few minutes wandering around your local Dan Murphy's and the sheer range of choices available can be overwhelming — and that's before you've even ventured beyond the beer section.
So what are the main types of alcohol you can buy? Let's take a closer look.
A staple at pubs and summer BBQs around the country, beer is as good a place as any to start our drinking journey. Once a mainstay at the top of Australia's alcohol charts, beer has declined in popularity in recent years as Aussie drinkers' tastes have shifted towards wine and other options.
Made from malted cereal grain (most commonly barley), water, hops and yeast, beer comes in two main styles: ales and lagers. The main difference between the two is the yeast used for fermentation. Ales are produced with a top-fermenting yeast at higher temperatures, while lagers are brewed with a bottom-fermenting yeast at colder temperatures.
Of course, buying beer isn't just as simple as choosing an ale or a lager. Within these two categories there's a much wider range of subcategories:
- Ales. Popular ale types include easy-drinking blonde ales, fruitier pale ales, bitter India pale ales (IPAs) and the malty darkness of porters and stouts.
- Lagers. If you've ever drunk a mainstream beer like VB, XXXX, Tooheys New or Heineken, you've tasted a lager. Pale lagers and pilsners are the most popular varieties.
And the choice just gets more confusing from there. Not only do you have full-strength, mid-strength and light options, but there's an ever-increasing range of brands available. From the well-known Australian and international brands to a huge variety of craft beer companies, choosing certainly isn't easy. The good news is that our guide to the best beer can help.
Cider is sometimes classed in the wine category, but we've decided to give it its own category here. Cider is made from fermented fruit juice, usually apples or pears but sometimes from a range of more exotic options.
The simplest way to pick a cider is to choose either a dry or sweet variety, or a semi-sweet or semi-dry option if you'd prefer something in between. However, there are also sparkling (more popular) and still (less common) varieties available, plus French (generally sweeter and with lower alcohol content) and English-style (generally a little more bitter and with higher alcohol content) ciders to choose from.
Made from fermented grape juice, wine is an increasingly popular choice among Aussie drinkers.
There are three main options when you're shopping for wine: red, white and sparkling. Of course, there's once again a huge variety of subcategories based on the type of grape used to produce the wine.
Red wine is made from dark-coloured grape varieties. It's fermented with the skins of those grapes to produce its dark colour and dry, bitter taste. Reds tend to go well with red meat and pasta. Popular varieties include:
- Shiraz. Australia's best-known grape variety, shiraz is a full-bodied red wine.
- Cabernet sauvignon (cab sav). Originally from Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon is known for its dark, fruity flavours.
- Pinot noir. More subtle than some other red varieties, pinot noir is made from cool-climate grapes.
- Rosé. Rosé ferments with grape skins for a shorter time than other red wines, giving it a pink appearance and fresh flavour.
- Merlot. Made from dark-blue grapes, merlot is known for its fruity flavours and notes of chocolate.
If you're looking for an affordable entry point to the world of red wine, our guide to the best cask red wine should help you wet your whistle.
White wine can be made from either white or red grapes, but grape skins are removed before fermentation begins. White wines tend to pair best with foods like seafood and chicken. Popular varieties include:
- Chardonnay. The world's most popular white wine, chardonnay is a crisp and dry drop that can be "oaked" (aged in oak barrels) or "unoaked".
- Riesling. Originally from Germany's Rhine region, riesling grapes produce aromatic, fruity wine that can be sweet or dry.
- Sauvignon blanc (sav blanc). Originating in Bordeaux, this variety produces refreshing wines with zesty, fruity and even grassy notes.
- Pinot grigio / pinot gris. Pinot grigio hails from Italy's Lombardy region and is dry and light-bodied, while pinot gris is from the Alsace region of France and is rich and sweet.
- Semillon. Originally from Bordeaux and the grape behind plenty of famous Hunter Valley drops, semillon is commonly blended with sauvignon blanc.
Then we come to sparkling wine, which can be white or red. Champagne and prosecco are your two best-known options here, made in France and Italy respectively. If you fancy a glass of bubbles, you might find what you're looking for in our guide to the best champagne.
Now we come to the staple inclusions in any home liquor cabinet: spirits. There are six main spirit varieties to choose from. All of them are distilled in similar ways but have their own distinctive
- Whisky. Made from fermented grains, whisky (or whiskey, depending on where it comes from) can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks and in a wide range of cocktails. Scotch, single malt, bourbon, Irish whiskey and more all fall into this category — check out our best whisky guide for more information.
- Rum. Distilled from sugarcane products, rum is known for its sweet flavour and its use in classic cocktails like daiquiris, mojitos and pina coladas. For buying tips, check out our guides to the best rum and the best spiced rum.
- Gin. Known for its juniper flavour, this grain-based spirit is best enjoyed in a classic G&T or a martini. Find out more in our best gin guide.
- Vodka. Usually made from grains or potatoes, vodka is a great all-rounder. There's a wide range of flavoured vodkas available, while it's also an essential ingredient in martinis, cosmopolitans, bloody Marys and many other classics. Our guide to the best vodka will help you find a bottle or two worth trying.
- Tequila. From shots to margaritas, there are many ways to enjoy this Mexican spirit. Tequila is made from blue agave plants.
- Brandy. Brandy is distilled wine, the best-known variety of which would have to be cognac. You can drink it neat or in classic cocktails like the brandy Alexander.
We should also mention that these key spirits can also be used to make a wide variety of other products you'll find at your local bottle-o. Liqueurs are sweetened spirits that can be enjoyed on their own or in cocktails — common varieties include absinthe, Baileys and creme de menthe. There's also an extensive range of pre-mixed spirits available, such as whisky and cola, gin and tonic, and a wide range of vodka-based "alcopops".
How to compare alcohol
Ready to compare alcohol types and products? Consider the following factors when weighing up your options.
Why you’re buying
The type of alcohol you buy will vary depending on the occasion. Having a cocktail party? You’ll want to stock up on spirits. Hosting a dinner party? Look for a wine that pairs well with your main dish. Headed to a summer BBQ? Everything from beer and cider to wine and pre-mixed spirits could be a suitable choice.
Your drink of choice is a matter of personal preference. You might need to sample a range of different types of alcohol, then narrow down your choices to the many varieties of that particular drink, to find your favourite.
To help increase your chances of finding something you like, research the tasting notes of different varieties before you buy. For example, one red wine variety can taste completely different to another, so read up on the sort of flavours you can expect and the foods it pairs well with.
Check the label to find out the alcohol by volume (ABV) and how many standard drinks are in the bottle.
Check the label to find out the alcohol by volume (ABV) and how many standard drinks are in the bottle.
The region in which grapes are grown or an alcohol is produced can affect its taste. For example, Japanese whiskies tend to not be as peated as scotch whiskies, while Australian shiraz is bolder and fuller-bodied than syrah (made from the same grape) that comes from Europe. Once again, research is your friend to help you find out what sort of taste to expect.
Price varies greatly depending on the type of alcohol, the variety you choose, and the brand you buy. For example, while many beers will set you back $40-$60 for a case of 24, you can pay well over $100 a case for some craft and foreign beers.
Alcohol content in popular alcohol varieties
Want to keep track of how much you're drinking? Here's an approximate guide to the alcohol content in the most common drink types:
- Beer. 4.5-5% (full-strength), 3.5% (mid-strength), 2.5% (light).
- Cider. 4-8%.
- Red wine. 12-14.5%.
- White wine. 11.5-13%.
- Sparkling wine. 11-13% (sparkling reds may be a little higher).
- Spirits. 37-40%.
Please note that certain varieties may have a higher or lower alcohol content than the approximate figures listed, so always check the label carefully before buying.
In Australia, a standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. For details on how many standard drinks are in your beverage of choice, check out this handy guide from the Australian government's Department of Health.
4 things to consider
There are a few other factors you should consider before you head to your local liquor store:
- Buying online vs in store. Going online can get you better prices and a lot of deals that simply aren't available for walk-in customers. By grabbing your deals and hunting for bargains it can be a lot cheaper to buy alcohol online. Plus, you generally won't find anything in a store that you can't get online, but can find a lot of options online that you probably won't be able to find in a store.
- Same day delivery. If you're after same day alcohol delivery your options are more limited, and generally take the form of delivery services, like restaurants with a drinks menu or services like Jimmy Brings. For larger orders, more selection and better prices however, look into Dan Murphy's or Naked Wines for next day delivery.
- Where to buy. Dan Murphy's and 1st Choice are two of the biggest names in the Aussie liquor business. Check out our head-to-head comparison of these industry heavyweights before deciding where you should shop when stocking your liquor cabinet.
- Non-alcoholic options. If you're trying to cut back on your drinking or if you need something you can safely drink before driving, it's worth pointing out that there If you're ready to start shopping, check out our guide to where to buy non-alcoholic drinks online.
If you'd rather something alcoholic, here's where you can buy alcohol online in Australia.
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