In November, Chicago’s year-old Band of Bohemia became the first brewpub to ever be awarded a Michelin star—no small feat for a place where the beer is the main event.
Band of Bohemia is the brainchild of Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar, who met ten years ago while working at Grant Achatz’s famed envelope-pushing restaurant, Alinea. Carroll was the restaurant’s first-ever in-house baker and Sindelar was the head sommelier, tasked with navigating pairings for Achatz’s inventive food. After two years at Alinea, Carroll went off to learn brewing at Chicago’s Half Acre. He worked his way up the ranks, starting out sweeping floors and scrubbing tanks before progressing to working on craft sodas and, eventually, to creating beers such as their Long Thai Rainbow Rye, a long Thai peppercorn and rye malt saison.
One night, after an underwhelming visit to a local brewpub after work, Carroll went home and outlined what was to become Band of Bohemia, a fine dining restaurant where beer is treated with the same attention and culinary savvy as the food. He brought the idea to Sindelar, who was immediately intrigued. Four years later, they opened their taps in a 6,200-square-foot space in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, where they serve a menu from chef Matt DuBois specifically designed to pair with whatever Carroll is brewing.
Brewers have been adding fruits and spices to beer for centuries, but “culinary beer” and “culinary brewing”—i.e. beers made with ingredients more often found in a kitchen than a brewery—are relatively new terms. Ten years ago, a single ingredient might be added to highlight an already existing flavor, such as adding cacao to augment a stout with chocolate notes. Today, however, beers are made to taste like everything from pizza to pastrami to peanut butter and jelly. Some have taken this use of use of uncommon flavors in a more cerebral direction, seeking to evoke place or memory, like Dogfish Head’s Bière de Provence, which incorporates lavender, bay leaf, marjoram and chervil, or 5 Rabbit’s Yodo Con Leche, which contains Costa Rican coffee, Argentine dulce de leche, oatmeal and a variety of both caramel and dark malts.
Carroll, who brewed his first “culinary beer”—an orange-chicory-rye beer based on bread he made at Alinea—at Half Acre in 2010, is taking the genre one step further, assembling beers like a chef might go about constructing a dish, placing flavor profile over any sort of stylistic prescription.
“If you go to the store and buy a beet, are you just buying a beet?” asks Carroll. “No, you’re gonna buy bacon or arugula or whatever your favorite green is. You might buy nuts and some cheese. And then at that point, you take your ingredients and mix and match.”
For his Roasted Beet-Thyme beer, Carroll started with one flavor—in this case a beet—and then assembled complimentary flavors until settling on thyme and a malt bill highlighting rye. When beginning the brewing process, he and DuBois discuss his intent, what ingredients are going into the beer and what he hopes the finished brew will taste like. From there, DuBois can begin his own process, tasting alongside Carroll as the beer evolves and tweaking his recipes before it goes on draft. With the Roasted Beet-Thyme beer, DuBois matched sturgeon served with duck hearts, beet pickles, charred alium and chanterelles, as well as a foie gras dish with fig, pickled onion, lemon, black pepper and port.
While a Belgian ale, dubbed Noble Raven, brewed with Tettnanger hops and a yeast from Bastogne, Belgium, is permanently available, the remaining four taps feature beers that rotate based on season or as new ingredients lend inspiration. “[DuBois] is standing next to me, and we have actual discussions about what we are doing,” says Carroll of the process. “There is real purpose to what and how we do what we do.”
With a year under his belt, Carroll has a better understanding of DuBois’ creative process and the desires of their clientele. He’s now focused on maintaining what they’ve created while continuing to push the envelope as he and DuBois grow together.
“Band of Bohemia is our dojo,” says Carroll, “the place where we practice our craft and hone our skills.”
Five Culinary Beers from Chicago’s Band of Bohemia
The Noble Raven
This Belgian ale, brewed with Tettnanger hops and a yeast strain from Bastogne, Belgium, is the brewpub’s house beer and the only permanent menu item at Band of Bohemia. Even though it’s not one of Carroll’s most adventurous beers, it’s imminently drinkable—light and crisp, with little spice and plenty of hops on the finish.
Pairing: Root vegetable stew with crispy fried bone marrow, smoked mushroom purée and pickled sunchoke.
The Great White Basmati
“I always like doing a rice beer because people just think of Budweiser,” says Carroll. But the manner in which this blonde ale is made is a far cry from mass-produced adjuncts. Carroll cooks basmati rice and then crisps it up in the oven. The rice is added to the beer at the end of the boil, imparting slightly sweet, toasty flavors and aromatics. “It’s not meant to be a weird beer,” says Carroll. “It’s just supposed to be good.”
Pairing: Butternut squash soup with oat and nut granola and cardamom meringue.
Pear Fenugreek Wheat
“I just love fenugreek,” says Carroll. “The seeds are very maple-y, with a little celery note as well.” While wheat beers are typically thought of as summer beers, the maple flavor of the fenugreek is what inspired Carroll to brew this as a fall beer, to which he adds pear as another complementary seasonal flavor.
Pairing: Wild mushroom tart with mushroom fricassee, fried leeks and smoked mushroom purée.
Carroll uses twice as much black mission fig as candied fennel in this ESB (Extra Special Bitter) to ensure that the anise remains peripheral. “Figs and fennel have always been a great pairing for me in the culinary sense, somewhat akin to a treacle ring,” says Carroll, referring to the traditional Maltese holiday pastry. Inspired by the British affinity for figgy pudding around the holidays, Carroll chose a mild ESB malt from the U.K. as the base for the beer. “It’s the kind of beer that has a really good backbone and a clean finish that lingers with hints of caramel, fig, fennel and spice—perfect for the winter,” says Carroll.
Pairing: Foie Schnitzel with breaded and fried foie gras, rye spätzle and red onion-apple condiment.
Sweet Potato Honey Porter
For this wintery porter, Carroll roasted 150 pounds of sweet potatoes (skins on) and added them to the mash to give the beer a caramelized back note, with the skins lending an earthy flavor. He then added 20 pounds of raisins and 20 pounds of dark honey to the boil to complement. “For me it’s not always about having flavors that punch you in the face, but add to the complexity of the brew,” says Carroll. “This is an important factor when it comes to pairing with food.”
Pairing: Celery root with pumpkin seeds, pecans, brown butter, leek oil and vegetable caramel.