U.S. Brewpub Wins Monumental Michelin Star Award

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Band of Bohemia's Michael Carroll on Monumental Michelin Star Award
Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar at Band of Bohemia. (Credit: Kentaro Yamada)

Chicago brewpub, Band of Bohemia, is now the first U.S. brewpub to earn a Michelin star, a highly-prestigious culinary award that is incredibly difficult to obtain.

“Earning a Michelin star is seen as a gift from the gods,” explains Adam Dulye, Executive Chef of the Brewers Association.

Only available in a select number of U.S. cities, the world-renowned Michelin rating process remains secretive. The restaurant and its chef never know when the reviewer visits, nor is the criteria of the program known. One extraordinary meal will not result in a star, Dulye points out. “If the reviewer loves the place, then another mystery visit will be paid the following year. Assuming the second visit goes as well as the first — preferably better — it’s at this point the reviewer may recommend the restaurant receive its first Michelin star.”

“So if an otherwise extraordinary restaurant happens to have an off-night while an inspector is visiting, that single experience could quash any future hopes of ever getting a star,” Dulye says.

No doubt this is an amazing honor for Band of Bohemia, and particularly exciting for co-owner and brewer, Michael Carroll, the classically trained chef-turned-brewer. Carroll used his degree in Culinary Arts from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont to travel and cook across the country. “My main backbone for style and vision really comes from the first two restaurants I worked at: American Seasons on Nantucket, and Wildwood in Portland. They had an emphasis on flavor and seasonality; farm-to-table before that was an overhyped buzzword.”

Now part of the “Bando” team, Carroll’s lengthy cooking background works its way into his beers.

“Beer is grain, water, yeast and hops,” Carroll writes. “Brewing is a very basic palette to work off of, very much like bread; they share many of the same principles for manipulation.”

Carroll would know. He spent nearly three years prior to Band of Bohemia as a bread baker for one of the country’s premier restaurants, Chicago’s Alinea, a spot that is no stranger to the Michelin Star with three as of 2015.

“At Alinea, I had the great honor to bake bread in an arena that wouldn’t allow for the norm. Everything that is made had to be creative and not found anywhere else. I really loved that idea and strived to create breads unheard of to the rest of world, and accomplished that. Having that as a base, I can now look to the brewing world and do something similar.”

Carroll talks more about what the award means for the brewpub, as well as the relationship between beer and food, in this edition of CraftBeer.com Full Pour.

 Full Pour: Band of Bohemia's Michael Carroll on Monumental Michelin Star Award
Band of Bohemia is the first U.S. brewpub to earn the prestigious Michelin Star. (Credit: Ruby Rubio)

Q: What was the vision for Band of Bohemia? How did you want customers to view and experience it?

Carroll: We really wanted the guest to be surprised, or even have an initial shock upon entering. If you say you are going to a brewpub, you can already have a vision in your head of what to expect. At Bando, your first glimpse is of a warehouse space, standard Chicago brick, and an industrial neighborhood. Open the bright yellow door and enter our parlor that immediately throws the guest off as if they just walked into their grandmother’s house, with a record player playing old-timey tunes, couches. There is a general sense that this is not an ordinary brewpub. And then you get the first glimpse of the dining room and it’s opulent. It is absolutely gorgeous, and now you might be thinking ‘We are really not in Kansas anymore.’ From there, our team of hosts is there to guide you to the right experience greets you:

‘Are you here for the full dining experience? Just in for drinks? Maybe a bit of both? Hang out in the lounge? Do you want to sit in front of the kitchen at the Chef’s Counter have some snacks a few beers and play a few rounds of Shut the Box? (our house game) Or just hang out at the bar?’

We set out from the beginning to have multiple levels of experience. There are very few things at Band of Bohemia that were not thoroughly thought out ahead of time.

“We sincerely hope that this jump will give some validity, or more validity, to beer as a serious beverage that has a lot to say when paired with food.” ~Chef Michael Carroll, Band of Bohemia

Q: Can you explain from a chef and brewer perspective the significance of becoming the first U.S. brewpub to receive a Michelin Star?

Carroll: It’s #%@^* HUGE. I mean it really is a big deal. If you ask anyone who knows me really well they will tell you I like to downplay things and be a bit coy, but this is really huge and I have no problem relaying that. HUGE! It’s not only huge for us as restaurant owners and chefs, but to the industry as well, both the food and beer sides. We sincerely hope that this jump will give some validity, or more validity, to beer as a serious beverage that has a lot to say when paired with food. This is change that is already happening around the globe and in many U.S. cities; Small Brewpub in Dallas, Luksus in New York, The Brewer’s Table at Surly, Edmund’s Oast in South Carolina, and a few others that are hot on our heels and doing some amazing things with food and beer. This honor bestowed upon us at Band of Bohemia is very positive for the brewing and brewpub industry as a whole.

Q: Recently, certain celebrity chefs have been critical of how they perceive beer as overly dissected. Band of Bohemia is a Michelin rated restaurant, but also a brewery. Can you describe what role beer should play in a meal?

Carroll: I think that the role beer should play in a meal is up to the diner. We can and have offered mixed pairing options during tasting menus (both beer and wine, sometimes cocktails and teas) to allow the guest a multi-sensory experience, a fun play on the palate. For me, I drink beer like I drink wine. I generally smell the aroma, and then just drink it. A sommelier friend of mine gave me the best advice before heading to a very serious wine tasting. He said, “If you like it, drink it. It doesn’t matter if you taste peach like the person next to you.” (Thank you Scott Noorman!) And for me that’s really the truest essence of enjoyment, I have never been a fan of the dissection of food, wine or beer, I just like to enjoy it! As long as the person making the product is true to their approach, you can’t really criticize it as being good or bad. You may not like it, or it’s not for you, but you can’t really call it bad, you just may not understand it. It’s the essence of art and creation. To create something unique is one of the hardest things you can do, because at some point someone wants to criticize it, for good or bad.

Q: Would Bourdain like Band of Bohemia?

Carroll: I think he would appreciate what we do as we make some very good food and drinks, but he may want to overly dissect what we do and get lost in the Michelin star honor, as we have seen happen already. As we have a dynamite and fun environment and great staff, I honestly believe he would have an amazing time; it may just depend on what he is expecting before he walks in the door. We do like a challenge.

Q: Are other restaurants and chefs missing the boat in regards to beer as a complement to their menus?

Carroll: I don’t think that other chefs are missing the boat. For example, when I worked at Half Acre, we made beers for Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant to pair with a few of their menus, who has also featured beers from Pipeworks, Mikkeler and Evil Twin. I think that chefs are on board, but that the brewing/brewpub world hasn’t caught on to it yet.

It’s a tough market, to have finer dining cuisine with beer. The margins are better with easier fair. For me, the real problem is Americans and brewers obsession with overly hopped beers. Be it an IPA or some version of the “American” this or “American” that, which is letting the consumer know that the beer has more hops in it than is necessary. I personally don’t think that food and my beverage should have a competition. For me and why the food world chooses wine over beer is that wine has subtleties that play off of the food and vice versa. If you have a very hoppy abrasive beer that wears the enamel off of your teeth when you drink it, chances are you will have a hell of time pairing it with finer foods. We here at Bando specifically make beer to have these subtle notes of flavors underlying and mingling with thought out malt base (THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR BEER) and what yeast you have selected (THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR BEER) and for me, hops are an accent, not the main focus. I take my approach from the more European ideals, less is more. And this then allows for a chef to focus on the subtleties to bring out in his/her food and not how do I compete with this very hoppy brew.

For example, right now our beer of the hour is the Pear Fenugreek Wheat. Lots of pear puree and fenugreek, which has a maple and celery flavor to it. A great food beer, and one that is extremely drinkable on its own — I know, I’ve had many! And with that Chef Matt [Dubois]’ mushroom “tart” with savory pie crust, mushroom fricassee, fried leeks, smoked mushroom puree. The pairing is unbelievable! A second choice is the Great White Basmati, a rice beer with a ton of cooked and toasted basmati rice steeped into the boil. Doing this adds a great depth of character to any beer, lightly nutty, almost fruity and very earthy. We can pair this with just about anything that you could have rice with.

Final Sips

A Michelin rating is one, if not the, biggest accolade a restaurant can get — and to be awarded one is so difficult, the feat is nothing short of amazing. For a U.S. restaurant to receive it is a testament to American food culture, but the fact that this brewpub is the first of its kind in the country may mean even more to legitimizing how American view craft beer at the dinner table.

“Beer is a massive part of this shift in fine dining or rather dining in general,” says Chef Dulye. “American cuisine is shifting too.”

Despite what Anthony Bourdain might say, there is far more than one way to experience beer. In fact, any way you are enjoying beer is the right way. Thanks to Band of Bohemia, that list of possible experiences now includes a Michelin Star rated one.

Main Image Photo Credit: Kentaro Yamada [The Uplifted]

Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association's acting editor-in-chief for CraftBeer.com. Andy is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Beer Judge. He lives in Westminster, Colorado where he is an avid craft beer enthusiast. On occasion, Andy is inspired to write on his experiences with craft beer, and if they are not too ridiculous, you might see the results here on CraftBeer.com.

CraftBeer.com is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on CraftBeer.com do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.