BarChick hit Poland with the one and only bison grass loving Žubrówka, and between helicoptering around exploring the magical Białowieža Forest, eating a lot of herring, cooking sausages on camp fires, and of course drinking a lot of ‘wódka’… she learnt all about this extraordinary spirit.
What is Žubrówka!?
It’s over 600 years old, it’s vodka and it’s made in Poland, hardly ground-breaking you say? Well wait. Technically it’s a flavoured vodka, but we're not talking toffee, we're talking bison grass. The bison grass grows in the ancient Białowieža Forest and it is used to flavour the vodka. Literally ‘žubr’ means bison in Polish and ‘wódka’ means vodka, put them together and you get… Žubrówka!
What is so special about this grass?
It’s very rare, in fact it only grows in the Białowieža Forest (some huge ancient forest), it’s pretty badass. Back in the day, everyone loved it, from Kings to Villagers, and still to this day it has people hooked on its unique taste. It is so rare and special that it is protected by law, and only a few local families have permission to harvest it.
The bison, aka the emperors of the forest
The grass is named after the roaming herds of ox-like bison that graze on the grass, these ox-like animals characterised by their long, shaggy, brown coats are known the emperors of the forest. These beasts spend summers grazing on the bison grass.
Who can harvest it?
It only grows in sunlit areas so secret that they are only known to the 550 bison that roam the forest, and the herb-collectors who have permission from The Ministry to harvest it. The exact location is said to be a closely guarded secret passed down from grandparent to grandchild, which only 21 families know about. We say find those bison and follow them!
How is it harvested?
During the harvest the families get up at the crack of dawn and head into the forest. They can recognise the grass from the trail of fine silvery powder that it leaves on their fingers as they run them along the blade. Each blade is cut with a small blunt scythe to encourage regrowth. They are then laid in a wicker basket, and aired naturally in attics for one month to dry before they are taken to the distillery in Bialystok.
How is it made?
It takes 60 days to make a bottle of Žubrówka, it is made in an area known as the ‘green lungs of Poland’ (basically it’s all environmentally friendly). The grass is gently circulated for three days with artisan well water at 80°C, and it takes on its faint green colour. The bison grass infusion is then transferred to oak barrels for 30 days of maturation. It is then passed through cellulose filters to preserve the natural aroma and taste of bison grass. The infusion is blended with pure rye vodka and artisan water, and a bottle of Žubrówka is born.
What does it taste like?
The grass is about eight inches long and gives off a very rich and natural cinnamon and vanilla scent, which the bison find irresistible. It is this flavour that shines through in the vodka, and the bottle is garnished with a piece of grass to bring its story to life. It also has notes of almond and cinnamon.
How to drink it
It can either be enjoyed neat - the Polish love their vodka and at weddings traditionally 2L of vodka is accounted for per person! Awesome. It is also delicious with apple juice, because wild apple trees grow in the forest, the sweet acidic kick of the apple juice works well with the natural vanilla scent of the bison grass. Job done.