Of the four cocktails that Alex Bachman poured for me on a recent Sunday afternoon, the Two Tribes took the longest to make. Prep time: just about two months.
Bachman is the bar manager and mastermind behind the drink menu at Yusho, the new Japanese yakitori restaurant in Logan Square helmed by Chef Matthias Merges, who for the past 14 years had been executive chef at the city's legendary and, alas, soon-to-shutter temple of fine dining, Charlie Trotter's.
Okay, I ought to clarify. Bachman stirred up a Two Tribes for me in about a minute's time, but the barrel-aged stone fruit bitters he uses to add layered complexity to this twist on an Old Fashioned takes him 57 days, give or take a day or so, to make from scratch. It's a telling statistic about Bachman's cocktail program: every ingredient that conceivably can be made in-house is made in-house.
If that's a point of pride for Bachman, and it sure should be, he doesn't let on; he communicates an infectious passion about the painstaking, thoughtful and hand-crafted nature of his drinks through an affable humility. Bachman, who is coming off a long stint of launching cocktail programs on the West Coast, has put together a broad and endlessly enticing debut menu for Yusho that pays homage to several classics (the Hemingway Daiquiri, the Negroni—to name just two) while also striving to break new ground.
The Two Tribes ($8), made with Redemption rye whiskey and nutty Cardamaro, the Italian bitter apertif, is an Old Fashioned the way a bespoke suit is business attire. There's a decadent depth to the flavors of orange, apricot, and charred wood that turn up in this glass, thanks to the four to five dashes of Bachman's barrel-aged bitters. To sweeten the Two Tribes, Bachman uses a syrup he makes from palm sugar, which imparts a rounder, more caramelized sweetness than simple syrup made with refined sugar.
This recipe is for serious DIY'ers only, but it's worth the effort.
Bachman named this drink in honor of architect Henry Bacon, who designed the Illinois Centennial Monument, the Doric column erected at the heart of Logan Square, as well as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Baconian Cipher ($11), he says, is his take on a Negroni: Herencia reposado tequila stands in for gin; Vermouth di Torino, by the makers of Cocchi Americano, is his chosen sweet vermouth; in lieu of Campari, Bachman employs Gran Classico Bitter, made in Switzerland by Tempus Fugit Spirits; and for a bright, spicy flourish, he shakes in a dash of rye-based tamarind bitters.
To garnish the Baconian Cipher, Bachman briefly grills a skewered and clove-studded orange peel on the restaurant's high-heat robata grill. This is one gorgeous drink, with luscious sweetness countered by deep, brooding and wonderfully complicated bitterness.
The refreshing Pisco Punch at Yusho blends Don Cesar Especial pisco, pineapple and coconut-infused sencha green tea, and a gomme syrup Bachman enhances with pineapple and umeboshi, pickled Japanese plums. It succeeds at being a light drink with big flavors.
Gin & Tonic
Just by color alone, it's apparent this Gin & Tonic ($8) is different. A base of malty, pinot noir-barrel-aged Ransom Old Tom gin lends Bachman's G.T. its blushing complexion. And by now you should have guessed that he also makes his own tonic syrup, a bracing, quinine-forward concoction that tastes the way tonic should, unlike most blunt and overly sweet commercial brands of tonic water. With its mix of bright citrus, sharp and honest tonic flavors, and robust Old Tom, Yusho's Gin & Tonic goes to show what a difference care can make.
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