Good Beer Hunting

Band of Bohemia Becomes First Michelin-Rated Brewpub

Just before their first anniversary, Chicago’s Band of Bohemia found another reason to celebrate: becoming the first brewpub in the world to earn a Michelin star award. The star award, developed as a rating system to grade restaurants on their quality, is highly coveted in the culinary industry and is internationally-recognized as a watermark of excellence.

Band of Bohemia’s award is a significant achievement—certainly for co-owner/brewer Michael Carroll and his team, but also for the craft beer segment as a whole. It serves, in many ways, to validate the argument that beer deserves a spot at the table right alongside wine.

In recent years, restaurants have started to feature beer more prominently on their menus, emphasizing pairing opportunities and starting a dialogue around everything from ingredients and regionality to format and price.

What we’ve also seen, though at a much slower pace, is the elevation of food in the brewpub setting. Meaningful strides have been made by places like Wrecking Bar, Edmund’s Oast, and Small Brewpub. But even amongst that group, Band of Bohemia stands apart.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Carroll’s background is as a chef, working in the industry for over 20 years at restaurants all over the country, including Cory Schreiber’s Wildwood, in Portland, OR and Thomas Keller’s famed Bouchon, in the Napa Valley. Most recently, Carroll served as the bread baker at Chicago’s Alinea, itself the winner of three Michelin stars.

He’s taken lessons learned from baking and applied them to brewing, focusing on Band of Bohemia’s yeasts and malt bills to create nuance and subtlety throughout their lineup. What’s resulted are delicate beers with underlying notes that can complement a variety of foods and flavors, rather than competing with them.

This isn’t a new concept, but having expertise in-house on both sides of the equation has obviously worked out well for Carroll and team. The Michelin award stands as a testament to his approach, and proof positive that beer can enhance the dining experience with a thoughtful and measured approach.

It’s no guarantee of success, however. While the culinary side of the operation has earned the highest accolades, a brewpub is a difficult beast to wrangle. To achieve the kind of longterm success BOB is aiming for—which is one of distinctiveness as well as good business—beer, food, and hospitality need to work in concert with one another at a very high level.

As Band of Bohemia passes the one-year mark, they’re looking to venture into retail spaces with their first packaged products. In doing so, they'll be exposed to entirely new audiences, but also measures of competition where it remains to be seen if their larger concept has any real influence on quality perceptions and sales. More than ever, a critical eye will be cast in their direction to see if they can live up to the hype, and if the brewing side of the operation can match the dining experience.

—Kyle Kastranec