When I was in Poland this past November, I was introduced to a local vodka called Zubrówka (literally translates to “bison grass”) and it is hands down the best vodka I’ve ever had. Chilled or room temperature, it’s light enough that a lady can enjoy it and strong enough to make a man feel like he’s having a drink!
The Polish vodka is said to have been made since the Middle Ages and is seasoned with bison grass, an indigenous wild sweet grass that grows in a northern region of Poland, where the now-endangered European bison graze. The Zubrówka label was popular in the US in the early 70s, but in ’78, our pesky F.D.A. had a little issue with Coumarin, a blood-thinning agent, which is found in bison grass. Needless to say, the tasty spirit was outlawed in America.
Not wanting to miss out on the market share, the experts at Polmos Bialystok in Poland, the only distillery permitted to make vodka called zubrowka, found a way to appease the FDA and give the Americans their delectable drink. They found when they assembled other herbs and seasonings from the bison-grass area and removed the coumarin, this created something pretty close to the authentic zubrowka. “Single copper columns and 14th century craftsmanship combined with ingredients sourced solely from a remote geographical region in Poland make Zú a vodka marked by grass and herbal undertones, with notes of almond, vanilla and chamomile.”† This 80 proof, rye-based vodka “is delicious served well chilled, rocks optional, and is a superb partner for nutty, fruity osetra caviar.” ‡
(Please read this next part as if Ted Mosby was telling this story.)
As I recall, it was our last night in Poland where Kevin and I first tasted this delightful alcohol. Of all places to be, we were at a really good Mexican restaurant with Michal, Michal, Weronika, and Pawel. Bless Michal O’s heart, he order us a round of drinks and at first I think Kevin and I were hesitant….and then we went all in! Wow….seriously, it’s….just delicious. Hahaha, I think we had four shots of this stuff a piece. Perhaps we shot one or two of them, but we actually sipped on the drink as well.
The next day when we got to the airport, Kevin and I had just enough time to go through duty free and we bought a bottle of Bison Grass and flasks for ourselves. We were headed to Lindy Shock and felt like we should bring a little “taste of awesome” to the party. Because Kevin and I are such big drinkers (can you hear the sarcasm?), it took us all of………wait for it……. 8 days to finish the little bottle. And to think, it was even being passed around. 🙂
Since then, I’ve been in search of this rich flavored vodka, destined to find it somewhere. I was recently in San Francisco and as often as I could, I’d go into those ratty little alcohol corner stores and ask if they had Bison Grass. For daaaaaaays, I had no luck, but then on one magical night, I struck gold! Or rather…….I found where the bison roam.
K & H Liquors had my brand of poison and I bought one of the three bottles up on the top shelf (*picture me brushing off my shoulder, proud as a peacock). In a fit of joy, I walked myself through a sketch area of town to have Nicole and Carl partake in my international find. As I pulled the bottle, delicately stuffed into that brown paper bag that says “I’m ready to drink in public if need be”, out of my purse, I trembled slightly. Inside I was screaming “yes, Yes, YES!” but on the outside I knew I had to be calm and collected. What was to happen if this wasn’t the grass I was looking for? What if the grass was greener somewhere else, and I hadn’t found the real deal?
Despite my concern, I unscrewed the golden cap, found an appropriate sized glass, and poured a shot. I took a swig and immediately felt warmed. “Woooooooo!” was the first sound to escape my mouth. It wasn’t quite as I remembered it…slightly stronger, but it was still nice. I felt like I should get a decanter and let it breath for a bit. Hahha, yeah…..not wine…..right……Back to the story! I passed the petite shot glass to Carl and he happily tried it. Nicole, on the other hand needed some cajoling; luckily, she quickly bowed to peer pressure and took the final sip. Happy times. Since reading up on the alcohol, I now know that it’s not the same here as it was yonder, but I’m still happy with my find. It will tide me over until I get back to Europe’s greener pastures.
And the moral of this story, kids, is never give up on your hopes and dreams of finding vodka from a land far, far away. There will be some corner store, or some bootlegger, selling any kind of moonshine or tincture that you can dream of if you just look long enough. And the bison lived happily ever after.
(Yes, I know that’s an odd ending, but that’ how Ted Mosby would have done it!)