Andrew and I are drinking like true Brooklynites tonight, paying homage to the Polish influence here with some decidedly new-school Żubrówka ŻU bison grass vodka. We bought it at Union Square Wines & Spirits, after chatting with a rep who offered us a sample. He also had bison grass with him—and OMG, it smelled absolutely heavenly. It reminded me of our American sweet grass, one of my favorite scents. After huffing it repeatedly and trying the vodka, which almost seems perfumed by it in the best way possible, we were hooked.
Bison grass vodka has a long and storied past in Poland, where it's been enjoyed since the Middle Ages. The original concoction is made from bison grass, a rare wild grass eaten by European bison in an ancient, protected forest on the border between Poland and Belarus. However this version, which was developed by Polmos Białystok in partnership with Rémy Cointreau, was a more complicated venture. And that's because the FDA ruled that bison grass vodka could not be sold in the U.S. due to a natural compound in the grass—coumarin, which acts as a blood thinner.
Sadly, coumarin is a fragrant compound that's also found in equally intoxicating flora as tonka bean, sweet woodruff, vanilla grass, mullein, sweet grass and sweet clover. So removing it from the formula meant that chemists at Polmos Białystok had to find natural elements that could emulate it. I'm sure that authentic bison grass vodka is better, and I don't think I'd be concerned about the coumarin, given that I don't have any conditions that could be exacerbated by it—but the reformulated version is great stuff.
The taste to me is herbaceous and "sweet" without having any palpable sweetness at all—and there are both grassy and vanilla notes, although everything is very subtle and well-blended. It's also incredibly smooth. The rep was telling us that we'd be surprised at how great it was at room temperature, and indeed, it lacked the fire/paint thinner aspect that even good vodka can have when drinking unchilled. For our cocktail tonight, I mixed Żubrówka with a splash of Zirbenz, a pine liqueur, and then I added (a lot) of seltzer. The pine works well with sweet grass notes and the result is a very forest-y cocktail.
Apparently the team behind this FDA-friendly version think Americans won't pronounce/remember Żubrówka, so I intend to use the full name as much as possible. The Wall Street Journal says it should be pronounced zhu-BROOF-ka and The Grey Lady says it should be zu-BROV-ka. After one glass of Żubrówka on ice, I can guarantee you that they start to sound like regional inflections of the same word. Try it for yourself.