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.
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:
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.