kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Vodka for the Gin Lover: ZU Bison Grass Vodka

What others find attractive about the neutral white spirit (i.e. little to no flavor, color or aroma,) I find boring. Oh sure, there are oodles of flavored vodkas out there on the market--some that I've really enjoyed, like SKYY Pineapple--but if you've seen even a handful of posts on this blog, you know I'm a gin girl at heart.

But a few months ago at an ABSOLUT Sensory Experience workshop, I tried bison grass vodka for the first time, and it was a revelation to me.

This style of vodka emerged in Poland in the 16th century, but its history can actually be traced all the way back to the 8th century. It's distilled from rye, and flavored with (yup, you guessed it) a tincture of buffalo grass called Hierochloe odorata, which grows in the Białowieża Forest (located partly in Poland and partly in Belarus) and elsewhere. Bison grass vodka's flavor is decidedly unique, with aromas and flavors of vanilla, coconut, and almond notes. (In other words, in Kelly's mind it appeared to be more like a non-juniper-based gin than a vodka...)

I recently sampled ZU Vodka, produced by Poland’s leading manufacturer of Żubrówka-style vodkas (that's what this category of spirit is called,) and I really was intrigued by the vanilla and coconut notes. It retails for $25, which isn't cheap, but if you tend to seek out unique spirits (that you can actually mix with...) I encourage you to grab a bottle.

The traditional way to enjoy it is mixed with apple juice (see below), but here are several other recipes. It actually is quite versatile, as the flavors aren't so over the top as to overwhelm other ingredients.

Ginger Bison
1 1/2 oz. ZU Vodka
Dash of bitters
1/2 oz. ginger ale (I like Fever Tree)
Lime wedge

Fill highball with ice, add ZU, bitters, fill will ginger ale and stir. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Szarlotka
1 1/2 oz. ZU Vodka
1/2 oz. unfiltered apple juice

Fill highball with ice, add ZU, apple juice. Stir.

ZU Punch
2 oz. ZU Vodka
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. elderflower liqueur or syrup
5 thin slices of apple
7-8 mint leaves

Break mint leaves in half, rim glass, and add all leaves into sturdy highball. Add remaining ingredients, stir gently and garnish with a mint sprig.