Location of Origin
Since the European bison is the largest land mammal in the continent, the Bialowieza Forest has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation by the EU. But its most notable claim to fame may be serving as the inspiration for the popular and distinctive Polish vodka known as Zubrowka, or bison grass vodka.
Zubrowka is produced from rye like many Polish vodkas. Then, however, the spirit is poured through bundles of dry bison grass, so named because bison that wander the Bialowieza enjoy eating it. For those who have drank the forest’s elixir, undertones of woodruff, vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, almond, lavender, and, of course, grass are among the flavors that are picked up when the vodka seeps through these magical bales. The usual blade of bison grass that is placed into each bottle as part of the process occasionally gives the beverage a faintly yellowish tinge that is accentuated further. (Since the region is protected, just a small portion of the vegetation may be taken out each year.)
Unfortunately, those who reside outside of Poland can only obtain bison grass vodka in a modified form that has the essential component removed. Since bison grass includes coumarin, a blood thinner that also damages rats’ livers, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has outlawed it. After being banned for more than 30 years, Zubrowka was finally brought back to the United States in late 2010 with a new recipe that no longer contained coumarin. The recognizable blade is still inside, and several reviewers mentioned grassy and coconut flavors. Purists, however, contend that the modified version lacks the same smells and scents as the original. Poland is where you may find the real stuff.
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Near Division and Ashland, Rite Liquors is a slightly shady Polish pub and booze store that I grew to like over time. I used to live right up the street from Rite Liquors. It had an odd sort of charm that was aided by the helpful bartenders, one of whom gave me my first taste of Zubrowka, or vodka made from bison grass. Since the 16th century, Poland has produced this rye-based whiskey, which has a mildly herbaceous (and, yes, grassy-tasting) flavor. The Wall Street Journal wrote on Poland’s complicated history in a 2011 piece. Because it includes coumarin, a moderately poisonous substance that naturally found in bison grass, it was outlawed for years in the United States. Absinthe can’t compare to Zubrowka when it comes to the allure of the forbidden and potentially harmful. The sole distillery authorized to use the Zubrowka name, the Polish distillery Polmos Bialystok, created a formula sans coumarin and started marketing it in the United States in 2005.
Zubrowka is typically consumed with apple juice, and up until this last weekend, it was the only way I’d ever consumed it. However, on Friday I came upon a recipe for the Bison Grass Crusta that asked for Zubrowka, lemon juice, and pineapple syrup while browsing through the most recent Hearty Boys cookbook (mixology book? ), The New Old Bar. I’d never made pineapple syrup before, but I adore ginger syrup, and it looked tasty. Plus, I already had the majority of a bottle of Zubrowka on hand.
The Only Vodka Worth Drinking Is Bison Grass
Vodka is a waste of time—both mine and yours—so I’m just going to say it in case I get any hate mail. If I’m searching for flavor in a spirit, I’ll turn to mezcal for its roasted, smokey overtones or gin for its crisp, botanical notes.
After college, I stopped looking to vodka for anything unless I was preparing something like jungle juice. I don’t particularly seek taste from whipped cream or salted caramel vodka. It may be snobbish, but I don’t care. Vodka is never appropriate. But when I tried Zubrowka for the first time, I was delightfully disproven.
Vodka, in my opinion, is just a general word for the typically flavorless basis of all other spirits. It’s simply some dull grain alcohol, a vodka, if you will, before whiskey turns oaky and gin is all flowery. A different spirit might make each cocktail that contains vodka more fascinating, yet most artificially flavored vodkas have defiled the name of the spirit.
One late night, I was rummaging through a friend’s liquor cabinet when I discovered bison grass vodka. He told me that he shares my opinions on vodka and encouraged me to sample the barely green liquor. I’m willing to try almost anything, so I took a taste and, bam, flavor. real tastes that are herbal, sweet, and natural.
Zubrowka, which is also known as bison grass vodka, has a distinct grassy, floral flavor that is accentuated by strong sweet vanilla and subtle nutty notes. Zubrowka, which is technically a rye distillate with a flavor of bison grass, is popular in Poland but was illegal in the US until roughly three years ago.
Because the liquor contains coumarin, a blood thinner that naturally exists in foods like strawberries and cherries, bison grass was prohibited. Zubrowka distillers didn’t discover a way to create bison grass vodka free of coumarin until a few years ago, much like American absinthe producers had to remove the thujone before it reached the country.
Zu’s Zubrowka is now available for between $25 and $30 per bottle in most neighborhood liquor stores, with the coumarin removed and the brand’s signature blade of bison grass floating in each bottle. Arizona can, however, grow sweet, fluffy prairie grasses like bison grass, so perhaps soon we’ll have our own locally produced bison grass vodka.
I’m not complaining, despite the fact that connoisseurs of Zubrowka claim the coumarin-free version tastes a little lighter. I’ve at last discovered a vodka worth spending some time getting to know.
In Poland, it’s customary to serve it with apple juice, but I can envision mixing it with ginger beer or in a martini with a hint of sweetness. It’s adaptable like vodka, has herbal characteristics that make it a contender for gin cocktails, and its sweet vanilla undertones might even enable it to take the place of whiskey or rum. Just start experimenting with what you have on hand and what flavors you generally like, like you would in most situations at your home bar, and work your way up from there.
(Having said that, it’s possible that I’m completely misunderstanding the point of vodka; if someone wants to convince me otherwise over a taste, I’ll accept their invitation.)
Tucson-based music, cuisine, and arts journalist Heather Hoch. She likes walking her dog, Frodo, Electric Light Orchestra, and soup.
A Wisp of Grass Arrives With the Polish Vodka
Zubrowka (pronounced zu-BROV-ka) is legendary among vodka connoisseurs. Zubrowka, a plant that grows in Poland’s north where the now-endangered European bison graze, is used to flavor a Polish vodka that has been produced since the Middle Ages. However, because bison grass contains a blood thinner, the federal Food and Drug Administration forbids the importation of genuine zubrowka.
Today, the specialists at Polmos Bialystok in Poland, the only distillery authorized to produce vodka known as zubrowka, have gathered additional herbs and seasonings from the bison-grass region and created a product that comes incredibly close to being true zubrowka. The vodka made from rye has just recently been made available in the US. Its chamomile-like floral scent and grassy, sweet flavor both have coconut undertones. It tastes great when served chilled, with or without rocks, and it pairs beautifully with fruity, nutty osetra caviar.
This imitation zubrowka has a real strand of bison grass in the bottle, just like the real thing. Additionally, in keeping with the season, it is swaddled in a faux fur and suede cozy.
80 proof Zu Bison Grass Flavored Vodka can be purchased for about $25 at Green Point Wine & Liquors in Brooklyn, $28 at Mister Wright in Manhattan, and about $25 at Beekman Liquors in Manhattan. One liter costs roughly $40 at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn and $34 at Beacon Wines & Spirits in Manhattan.
From whence comes bison grass vodka?
The vodka, pronounced “zoo-broov-ka,” has a 400-year history and is prepared from rye (as are nearly all Polish vodkas). It is then infused with a particular grass, hierochloe odorata, which is indigenous to the Bialowieza Forest in northeastern Poland.
How is Bison Grass Vodka served?
The traditional method to enjoy bison-grass vodka is with ZU and apple juice, as people have done for millennia. We swear it tastes just like apple pie—almost suspiciously so. Here, we substitute hard cider for the juice to add complexity, a hint of sparkle, and a little more alcohol.