so a girl walks into a beer bar

I like to think that Melbourne’s good beer scene is progressive enough to know that the so-called fairer sex are just as capable as the lads of enjoying a damn fine beer. Thinking of the beery venues I frequent (The Local Taphouse, Biero Bar, Slowbeer), my gender has never really been an issue. The folks there talk to me as just another beer-lover who can benefit from their knowledge.

So when I do head into a specialist beer venue and attention is drawn to the fact that yes, I am indeed female, it’s unusual. One such evening, two of my favourite beery chums Jourdan & K headed out with me and Tristan to the fairly newly opened Josie Bones, an establishment set up by Chris Badenoch (oddly enough, I knew him as the blogger who cooks with beer, not as the hat dude on Masterchef) and partner Julia Jenkins, also Masterchef alumnus. Josie Bones brags a fantastic beer selection and accompanying nosh reliant upon the nose-to-tail philosophy. If you weren’t convinced of that, then the painting of the headless carcass above the bar would indeed make that obvious!

The first beer I ordered was the Burleigh Brewing Black Giraffe. The fellow serving who no doubt thought he was being helpful asked me if I was sure and didn’t I want to know what it was first. Um, okay, I said, a bit puzzled. He told me it was a black coffee lager and I immediately replied that yes I did still want it.

The glasses with their bone emblem are just gorgeous, but look at the beer! Frothy head and a smooth beer with hints of roastiness. If you let it warm up a bit, you can taste the coffee too. Thankfully, this beautiful drop is available in longneck bottles at most good beer stockists – I saw it at Slowbeer and Purvis Beer in Richmond along with Burleigh’s My Wife’s Bitter.

Sadly, the fellow serving didn’t seem interested when I tried to explain that the schwarzbier style is something I really enjoy (though this is strictly not a schwarzbier, so says Oz Brews News here). Apparently, girls don’t like dark lagers. I tried to engage in conversation by explaining that I did also like hoppy beers and was told that there is more to beer than the hops! Really?! No wai!

Ouch. Being talked down to when I’m trying to engage with a supposedly passionate like-minded individual.

The patronising attitude wasn’t just gender-specific as we all later learnt upon ordering a bottle of BrewDog Tokyo stout. The staff checked with us to make sure we knew that we were requesting to share a 330mL bottle (I’m not sure why when Tokyo’s ABV is 18% or so. We were basically sharing a fortified wine equivalent amongst four people). We were then asked if it was okay to be served Tokyo in wine glasses because apparently beer has aroma, didn’t you know?! By now the four of us were a tad put off.

When said ‘helpful’ waiter actually walked past all four of us having our dessert of kriek sorbet and honey ice cream Bombe Alaska with the Tokyo and said “Interesting pairing there…” at least one of us was hysterical with anger and one with mirth. The meringue looked picture-perfect on the outside but was a little melted. I think they could have used more kriek in the sorbet too, which was more like granita as it was grainy, slushy and watery, rather than being smooth and fruity like sorbet normally is. Of course, using more kriek depending on its alcohol content might not allow the sorbet mixture to freeze properly – I learnt this when making my annual ‘summer survival’ batch of lemon vodka granita (which due to vodka content was really more of a slushie). The honey ice cream was glorious – creamy and very sticky-sweet. I don’t care how daggy this dessert is: I love it.

But back to the beer: Tokyo paired with the dessert in question isn’t that ‘interesting’. If anything, I learnt at the most recent Ale Stars session I attended that kriek and stout blended together is a a sublime drink, akin to liquid Black Forest cake. Plus, it’s way more adventurous than the usual chocolate mud cake with stout pairing.

I have to admit that for most of the week when this story was related to friends, I was livid at its mention. Now I’m feeling more reasonable and one friend pointed out that the attitude of this self-styled beer sommelier (you have to get accreditation to become a cicerone – believe me, I checked) needs to be nipped in the bud because he’s likely to pass it on to the staff he trains.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see if he tries talking down to me at the next Australian Beer Writers’ Guild meeting, which will be held at Josie Bones. In fact, we’ve booked out this stunning communal table for it (photo taken by the multi-talented Jourdan).

Now, in no way am I saying that people shouldn’t go. In fact, there are several reasons you should. The bar itself is just gorgeous and the tables sit a quartet. It’s quite intimate and the light directly overhead on each of the side tables assists in creating a booth-like feel when you’re seated. The wait staff are lovely and then there is the food. Oh yes, the food. And make sure you go with non-squeamish foodies! More food loveliness to share.

I absolutely insisted upon oysters which came topped with guanciale and Dubel jelly. We’re all still not sure if they meant ‘Duvel’ jelly? Or dubbel jelly? Duvel being an actual beer and dubbel being a Trappist ale. In any case, you could actually taste the beery bitterness in the jelly! Pretty cool.

One of the other waiters politely twisted our arms into ordering a special cherry tomato salad.

Jourdan was pretty excited about the notion of having trotters, so we got that too. They are fritters with romesco sauce though reminded me more of croquettes. I think I’m all croquetted out this year so wasn’t too excited about these but still ate my share.

The octopus and bone marrow ‘cigar’ with a side of green mango salad and nam jim was freaking fantastic. You could see the cubes of bone marrow spilling out of the cigar – an excellent contrast to the zestiness of the salad. I’d probably order this again next time I go!

Next time, I might try to make sure that I have some of the Red Duck Bengal IPA to drink with the above dish. It’s an approachable, satisfying malt-driven IPA.

Let’s continue: how about a serve of black pudding, white sausage, peas pudding and madeira jus? The black pudding was a tad salty but the white sausage was heavenly. The serve is too damn small, oh yes.

Jourdan and Tristan had tried it the day before, so I pretty much got an extra portion of the rolled pig’s head sauce gribiche with crackling served on top. Definitely not as confronting as it sounds, it was delicious and richly flavoured.

We did bulk up our meaty selections with some vegetably sides. I love enoki mushrooms and barley, so insisted upon the pearl barley, enoki and cucumber salad with walnut dressing. A palate-cleansing accompaniment to our rich morsels.

K liked the sound of the pink fur apple potatoes with grilled Swiss raclette cheese. I personally think our table could have done with two serves of this, it was very moreish. You can’t really go wrong with good potatoes and cheese together, can you?

As mentioned above, all four of us fatties ended with the Bombe Alaska coupled with a tipple of the Tokyo stout by BrewDog.

The beer list is extensive and fully supports the national craft beer industry which is excellent to see. It is pricy: this will ensure that Josie Bones remains a place to get some excellent bar food with equally high-calibre beer but might it also discourage would-be beer neophytes?

Regardless, Smith Street in Collingwood is becoming quite the foodie street. Despite the experience with the head beer sommelier, I’m still keen to revisit. Hopefully the man will have learnt some manners by then and I can retire the #beergirlrage hashtag on Twitter. Besides, when Duplo cow wants your money, your money s/he must have.

the bill guardian

Josie Bones on Urbanspoon

Update: we’ve heard back from James, the beer manager at Josie Bones. He’s kindly given us permission to publish correspondence sent to us as follows:

Hi Gem,

I’m James, the beer manager at Josie Bones. Let me start by apologising if I came across as gender biased or patronising in any way. I’m here to assist on the customer’s beer journey and unfortunately there are many people who don’t possess your knowledge and are very shy about sharing what they do know. I fear for people ordering by name or label and finding themselves challenged beyond their tastes and thereby spoiling what could be a beautiful beer relationship. I have had this happen in previous roles and it breaks my heart to see anyone become excluded from the magical world of beer.

Secondly, I do not call myself a beer sommelier. As you mentioned, this is a title that must be earned and I’m very conscious of how far I am from wearing this title. I was hired just as much for my ability to discuss beer with a wide range of people as for my ability to source and arrange a list such as ours. We have had endless conversations regarding an appropriate title and so far “Beer Guy” and “Beer Manager” are the ones that seem to suit. Believe me, I’m no beer sommelier and to call myself such is doing no favours for anyone.

Whether the customer is male, female, educated or naive, from Collingwood or Taylor’s Lakes, I am here to assist them on their beer journey. My passion for beer, food and good times is boundless and I appreciate any constructive criticism that will help me to help others. Perhaps next time you’re in you could introduce yourself as it seems we share many common passions and we could both benefit from a drink and a yarn. And maybe a pig head or two.

Thanks you for the great review and I look forward to making your acquaintance.


James Greenfield
Beer Guy

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24 thoughts on “so a girl walks into a beer bar

  1. Caz

    Have been wanting to go since it opened but haven’t made it that way yet with all the Holiday madness on.

    Perhaps they’ve misjudged their clientel? Assuming that most diners will be Masterchef followers who don’t have the beer experience and they’re trying to educate (albeit poorly) instead of realising most of their initial patrons will be foodie/beer-y’s who are informed on these things?

    Regardless, looking forward to trying it…

  2. Ashley

    Wow, what a smorgasbord there! Service did sound annoying with the beer but I suppose they want to make sure they’re absolutely covered in case a customer complains it’s not what they wanted? (Have had this happen as a waitress)

    The food does look good though, look forward to trying it!

  3. Tristan

    I agree with @Caz and @Ashley’s idea of assuming a low-level of beer knowledge of diners. It means that people will always be able to start with approachable beers, and work their way up to more challenging beers is nice.

    However it has to be gender neutral — in this instance the knowledge deficit was presumed to be a female only thing. I can only imagine what would have happened if Kirrily Waldhorn (aka The Beer Diva) had been on the table. I suspect blood would have been spilled.

    Fortunately the food was of an excellent standard (so much so that I went twice on the one weekend), and the rest of the waitstaff were top-notch.

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  5. Brian

    Hey Gem,

    I’ve been to Josie Bones a few times, opening night and the weeks following. I’ve spent a fair bit of time chatting with James and Chris. Firstly, they are a bit high strung on trying to get it all right. Secondly, when you don’t offer up any sort of indication that you have any knowledge of, let’s say beer, more than likely you are going to get treated as not having much. And last but not least, I work in a beer store, I have seen more women not have any clue what so ever about beer and expect me to pick something out for them, hence why he unfortunately assumed you were the same. My suggestion is make yourself known to the people there…businesses and customers are all in this together…we all drink beer, good beer.

    1. Gem

      Hi Brian,

      I really did try to make it known (albeit gently) that I knew a little about beer but at the time, James didn’t really listen so I felt it best not to push as no one likes a show-off. Seeing as I was out with friends, I didn’t think it was cool to “announce” who I was because let’s face it, at the end of the day, I’m just an annoying food (and beverage) blogger.

      I do understand that punters can be clueless, but as stated above, I frequent venues that have always treated me with respect even when I was a beer newbie.


  6. Davy

    Great article and admirable response from James the Beer Guy!

    Incidentally, what camera’s being used for the pics?


    1. Tristan

      Hi Davy,

      Indeed an admirable response from James.

      The camera is a Canon 500D. For this review I was using the kit 18-55mm f3.5-5.0 🙂


      1. Davy

        Thanks Tristan! Kit lens eh? Nice work, if I could pester a tad more, what settings are you using for the indoor shots? Cheers 🙂

  7. Katja

    I am female and also have been to Josie Bones a few times. I haven’t been treated like that at all. Maybe it was just the way I presented myself. I don’t know. I agree you could’ve made a mention that you know something about beer… without saying who you were. And I’m not so sure it’s a sexist thing. We’ve all seen plenty of clueless men when it comes to beer, so Brian’s comment isn’t fully valid (although it is to a degree). (Men just won’t admit it as readily as women when it comes to not liking a beer.)

    The staff at Josie Bones has appeared to have been a bit nervous at times, but that is what you would expect for a new restaurant… especially one that has a partial focus on something not very well known nor appreciated in Australia – beer and food pairings. And I disagree with your bombe alaska review – that thing is spot on, and I melt every time I eat it.

    I do ask one thing of you. As a female who enjoys beer, please don’t be so self-righteous about it. (This is only the second blog posting I’ve read of yours, as I don’t tend to follow food/drink blogs.) Over the past few years, I have seen the scene grow in this country, and notice that there are more and more women attending tastings. This excites me, as when I first arrived in this country, I was disappointed in the general lack of knowledge of decent beer – among women AND men. Those with any knowledge tended to be from overseas (male and female). That’s changing.

    It’s okay to be a beer snob, but it’s not ok to be a beer diva (unless you’re Kirrily… but even she’s not very “diva” in her beery ways).

    1. gem Post author

      A pretty hurtful comment you’ve left, as I’ve really gone out of my way to write a thoughtful, measured post and definitely not one to be critical for the sake of it.

      As stated, I did try to make it known I knew something about beer, to no avail. I’ve spoken to James personally about this and he has apologised profusely for making me feel the way I did and it has been accepted, I hope he feels, in a gracious manner.

      I’m nowhere in the league of amazing, talented people like Kirrily and nor would I ever claim to be. Indeed, she is the person that inspired me to write about beer (in an albeit pedestrian way) in the first place.

      1. Katja

        I didn’t mean to be hurtful. I just got a “holier-than-thou” vibe from your post (e.g., the dubel paragraph), which annoys me to no end. I apologize if I hurt your feelings.

        1. Gem

          Definitely not meaning to be holier-than-thou about the Dubel thing – actually, next time I go in will ask James to clarify (as I said in the post, I was unsure whether they meant they were using Duvel jelly, or jelly made generally out of a beer in the dubbel style). I’m actually pretty curious about it.

  8. Fitzroyalty

    Gem did identify herself when she entered the premises – as a customer. The idea that she should identify herself as knowledgeable about beer or as a food blogger etc is inappropriate. It’s the job of the staff to make customers feel welcome.

  9. steve J

    Hey Gem,

    You may have already seen this interesting video I found about women and good beer (not about beer & food though). Nicely shot too!

    I LOVE that so many more women are exploring better beer (and are often more adventurous than men).. These are the Beer Chicks in the video. While we have the lovely Beer Diva, it’s about time Australia introduced the Beer Sheilas! 😉


    PS. While I’m currently submerged in the new baby fog, I’m looking forward to getting down to Josie’s v soon.

  10. Piggyeatalot

    Awww that beer guy is brave to apologize! What a sweetie! Going there tomorrow so hopefully I will a less snobbish service 🙂 but then again I need alllll the help I can get from beer!

    1. gem Post author

      Yeah, takes a good person to accept responsibility for their actions. I’ll be visiting soon and very much looking forward to it. Hope you enjoy it too!

  11. Wobbles

    Great article Gem, and fantastic to see that it has both encouraged some polite conversation and a polite and well rounded response from James @ Josie Bones.

    It is far too often that staff at a new establishment can make simple assumptions like these and end up suffering because no one tells them.

    In reading your article, I think you walked the fine line between expressing your frustration, and being polite. Nicely done.

    I look forward to visting Josie Bones tomorrow night and sampling their wares.



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