The story of Zubrowka started 600 years ago, in the fourteenth century, when Casimir the Great sat on the throne of Poland. He encouraged learning and science, and his reign saw Polish alchemists master the distillation of Polish ‘wódka’ for the first time. Blessed with natural resources, Poland proved the perfect birthplace of modern vodka. Vodka rapidly grew in purity and popularity and it wasn’t long before pioneers started adding their own native wild ingredients. Polish alchemists learnt that by infusing their spirit with the essence of bison grass, they could create a unique herbal vodka. This was the start of Zubrowka and its flavour and aromas has continued to captivate Polish people and the rest of the world ever since.
The Bialowieza forest
Located in northeast Poland under an ancient and remote green canopy lies a unique, natural wonderland. The local bison grass pickers call this place ‘puszcza’, meaning ‘forest primeval’ – the last fragment of a once-great woodland that cloaked Europe. A haven of nature and wonder, the Bialowieza forest is the only place Zubrowka bison grass grows, the magical ingredient that captures the wilderness of the forest and the essence of Zubrowka
The Bialowieza Forest is home to a myriad of rare fauna, the most astonishing of all the animals in this ancient woodland, however, are the 480 majestic bison, the true ‘emperors of the forest’. This primeval wildwood is the only place where European bison (‘zubr’ in Polish) live free. The national animal of Poland and the proud icon of Zubrowka (literally meaning ‘bison vodka’), their favourite food is the rare aromatic bison grass that grows in secret sunlit glades so remote even the national park guides don’t know its exact locations.
The Rare Bison Grass
By sight, bison grass is almost impossible to distinguish from normal grass. About eight inches long, it is most noticeable pre-dawn, before the forest truly comes to life, when it stands prouder in the morning air.
Only 21 families know the exact location of the rare bison grass in Bialowieza and this secret is passed down from one generation to the next. The picking season lasts from May to early September, but the grass is at its most aromatic in June, when the pickers begin harvesting it. The families’ years of knowledge and skill are well rewarded, with a kilo of bison grass selling for about €400.
Creating the legend
Once harvested the bison grass travels to the state-of-the-art distillery on the outskirts of Bialystok, where the production of Zubrowka begins.
Working with 40 local rye farming families over many decades to get the very best golden winter rye vodka in Poland ensures that the quality of the vodka is guaranteed. Each batch is carefully analysed, along with soil samples, to help each farmer continue to grow the best quality rye on their land. This small batch vodka is then distilled a further six times through a six-column rectification plant for unrivalled purity. Once distilled, it’s mixed with crystal clear spring water from a deep well located on the distillery’s grounds and filtered through carbon to take away any last impurities. This water, from 60 metres below ground, is naturally demineralised.
The unique Bison grass essence is then extracted in the distillery by spreading the blades on screens and flowing ethyl alcohol over them for several days, creating a pure aromatic essence. This essence is matured for two months for a deeper flavour and better bouquet, before being carefully blended with the pure rye vodka in perfect quantities until the right colour, aroma and taste are achieved.
Finding the rare bison grass in the Bialowieza Forest is just the start of the story for our grass. They must ‘season’ each blade to ensure it keeps its rich aroma and natural green colour. Pickers do this in the traditional way – by carefully laying the grass on wooden slats in a small enclosed space that’s been heated to 25 degrees. After eight hours, the bison grass blades stiffen, but crucially don’t dry out and lose their scent. For the next six days, each blade is turned every five hours by hand to ensure a consistent colour.
Finally, as testament to Zubrowka’s authenticity and naturalness, each bottle is hand-decorated with a single blade of seasoned bison grass.
Among the mighty oaks of the primeval Bialowieza forest, some of which are over 600 years old, wild apple trees grow. The apples represent our signature serve, a sensational mix of Zubrowka and freshly pressed apple juice, known in Poland as Apple Zu. The sweetness and acidic kick of the apple juice perfectly complement the natural herbaceous and soft vanilla scents of the bison grass.
Glass: Old Fashioned/Rocks
Garnish: Lemon wedge
50ml Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
120ml Cloudy apple juice
Shake and strain.