Ah, the fun things you spot in the liquor aisle on otherwise rather dry (martini) weekly grocery store runs. Spirits like Żubrówka (pronounced zhu-BROOF-ka), a Polish addition to the U.S. market that Remy Cointreau now imports. According to the label, it is "the original bison grass-flavored vodka."
What exactly does that mean? It's not grass-fed bison-flavored vodka, which sure, might have been subconsciously on the mind as we'd just dropped a pound of ground bison in our grocery cart. A bison riff on that foie gras Bloody Mary will just have to wait (probably a good thing).
It turns out the vodka is simply distilled from the wild grasses on which European buffalo graze. To add to the lawnmower-inspired cocktail fun, each bottle contains a blade of the grass -- a vegan-friendly worm-in-a-tequila-bottle idea, in essence. Distilled wonders never cease.
The vodka has not been sold in the U.S. until recently because the grass contains coumarin, an ingredient that sure, is used in rat poison but also occurs naturally in strawberries, according to Daniel Michaels at the Wall Street Journal. One of those bitter almond-type predicaments.
Michaels says Żubrówka distillers found a way to eliminate the coumarin during the distilling process without altering the vodka's flavor. And yet, as Camper English over at Alcademics clarified when he questioned a company representative, there is a catch -- the U.S. version, Zu, is technically a flavored vodka. To add to the subtle confusion, the label on the flavored versions sold here still prominently feature the name Żubrówka, as in the photo above.
Since the arrival of Zu (yes, apparently the similarity to the word "zoo" was intentional), other distillers have gotten on the bison grass flavor kick. In November, Sobieski vodka released its bison grass-flavored version, Bizon. Oh, the tipsy wordplay fun.
More importantly, what does bison grass-flavored vodka taste like? We haven't tried it yet, but W. Somerset Maugham reportedly was a fan of the real Polish (coumarin-tinged) deal. In The Razor's Edge, he says the vodka "smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender. ... It's like listening to music by the moonlight." It also led to the demise of the main character.
So perhaps it's best to err on the safe side and stick with the flavored but coumarin-free versions. Per Anthony Dias Blue's review of the new Sobieski vodka in this month's Tasting Panel magazine, which comes with its own disclaimer, Bizon has a "sweet grassy aroma, earthy with clean herbal flavors that are reminiscent of cannabis (not that I've ever tasted cannabis)...." Translation: A legal pot-flavored vodka complete with that illegal substance pedigree you crave.