Zubrowka The Best Vodka On Earth

Sunday, June 25, 2006

How to make Zubrowka at home

This blog is for all interested in enjoyng the best flavored vodka on Earth- Zubrowka (also known as Bison Grass Vodka).
If you live outside of United States, there is a good chance you can get it in your local Liquor Store. If you are in the USA however, you have to either sneak it in from Europe or make your own. There are a couple of types of Zubrowka available for sale in the USA- but they are only a sorry attempt at bringing Zubrowka to the US market while complying with the FDA laws.
See, the real stuff contains coumarin, which the FDA frowns upon and in 1976 made all food products containing it illegal to import. So, the Zubrowka you can get in the store is all artificially flavored to resemble the real stuff. The problem is, the artificial flavoring is not even close to the real thing. As a matter of fact, it is quite nasty tasting. Anyone who tried that stuff first, will likely never drink it again and might be so turned off that they will not even bother giving a shot to the real thing. It's a tragedy, really.

For all who do want to try it, I give my recipe below. It's not a quick and easy process, but in the end worth every minute. You will have a truly unique alcoholic beverage that none of your friends can get anywhere else. Treat them to the Tatanka mixed drink and you will be their hero. I have not met a person yet who turned up their nose at it.
Here it goes:

Zubrowka Vodka Recipe.

In my second year of trying I finally succeeded at making a close copy of the Polish Bison Grass Vodka (Zubrowka). The real stuff is not imported to USA due to its coumarin content. The unique taste and flavor of this vodka makes it an instant favorite with pretty much everyone I gave it to. It is well worth the effort of making it at home.
The so-called Zubrowka (also sold as Bison Grass Vodka) that is available for purchase in USA is all artificially flavored and doesn't even come close to the real thing. Don’t bother with it.

*A disclaimer.

This recipe calls for extracting the flavor of Sweet Grass by running a bottle of vodka through a water distiller. I’m not 100% sure if this doesn’t violate any laws, but feel that since the vodka I use is bought in a store and all taxes on it are paid, concentrating it is not going against the law. But, I didn’t consult any lawyers, so if you decide to follow this recipe do it at your own risk.

Here is the recipe:

This will yield enough extract for about 24 750ml bottles of Zubrowka.
You will need Sweet Grass (hierochloe odorata). You can buy it from a few mail order places in USA- either as live plants or as dried braids that are used in Native American rites - mostly as incense. Personally, I bought live plants and grew and harvested them myself. For a good batch of Zubrowka you will need two to three plants in their own shallow pots (they spread and grow best that way).
You will also need two bottles of 100 proof (50%) vodka.

You should have access to a water distiller such as the Kenmore brand available at Sears. The older style seems to be better.

Once the grass has grown to over 12 inches in length cut it about 2 inches above surface, bunch it up and hang it in the sun to dry for about two to three days.
Take about fifty 12 inch long blades of dried Sweet Grass and cut them in 1-2 inch long pieces. Submerge them in 750ml bottle of 100-proof vodka and set aside for about 7-10 days.
Take another 50 dried blades cut up in smaller pieces and put them in a second 750ml bottle of 100 proof vodka. Place this bottle in a pot of water and heat it up on a stove top until the vodka starts to percolate. Loosen up the cap so that the pressure of alcohol vapor can be relieved and the bottle doesn't explode on you (basic common sense stuff). Keep it in the hot water for a few minutes- until you see the vodka turn yellowish-green from the grass. Take it out of the hot water and place it next to your first bottle. After it cools down it will have turned into dark green alcoholic "tea".

*Here is a little secret I found through making a few trial runs. Lower alcohol content (80 proof and below) leads to amber/brown tea; higher alcoholic content (110 proof and above) leads to bright green tea. You want something between brown and green to achieve a color similar to the original. 100-proof vodka is a very good choice for the first try.
Let the green extract sit for a few hours (maybe overnight) and strain it through a brown coffee filter into a bottle.

The original bottle of 100-proof vodka with the Sweet Grass pieces, after 7-10 days will still be rather clear, but it will acquire some of the wonderful Sweet Grass scent. Pour it (including the grass blades) into an old style Kenmore Water distiller (the newer ones leak if you try to use it with alcohol) and extract the alcohol with the flavor captured in it.
A 750ml bottle will yield about a cup and a half of the concentrated, Sweet Grass-scented alcohol.
Capture it into another bottle.

To arrive at the correct extract for making Zubrowka combine 1 cup of the clear scented alcohol with 1½ cups of the green extract in a bottle.

Now you are ready to make Zubrowka.

Personally, I buy cheap vodka in half gallon bottles (Vladimir, Burnett’s etc) and run it through a Brita filter at least three times to remove the bad aftertaste. If you are a purist, you might want to buy some good Polish vodka (grain based recommended) to serve as a base for your Zubrowka. The end effect in my opinion is better with cheap, filtered vodka. In any case, for a 750ml bottle you combine 1¼ oz. of the combined Sweet Grass extract and 1 tea spoon of sugar dissolved in two tea spoons of boiling water. Combine and pour the ingredients in a clean clear glass bottle, fill the bottle with your filtered vodka, shake it up to dissolve everything evenly and top off the bottle with a single blade of dried Sweet Grass.
The clear, scented alcohol gives the vodka the wonderful aroma, the “tea” gives it its color and most of the taste, the sugar serves mostly as a binding agent for the (rather volatile) scent- but also give the Zubrowka a mellower taste- the green tea can be rather bitter.
Let the bottle sit overnight before drinking. It will be much smoother and tastier that way.

* A tip for drinking Zubrowka.
Do not believe the opinions found on the Internet that Zubrowka, if enjoyed neat, should be chilled. That’s a heresy in my opinion. Chilling Zubrowka prevents you from experiencing its full aroma. In that regard Zubrowka is like a good brandy. You sip on it at room temperature or just do shots.

The greatest mixed drink using Zubrowka is called Tatanka in Poland. It consists of one part Zubrowka, two parts apple juice and a lemon wedge- on the rocks and shaken. It’s better than any other vodka drink I ever had. All of my friends who tried it share that opinion with me.

*A note about Zubrowka:
The FDA has outlawed it in the USA along with all food products containing coumarin.
Coumarin has been found to be carcinogenic. People who developed cancer of the liver linked to coumarin use have been taking 200mg coumarin tablets daily for long periods of time (as an anticoagulant agent). A whole bottle of Zubrowka contains about 12mg of coumarin. Enjoying an occasional drink should be safe, but I felt that I need to warn anyone who might want to drink home made Zubrowka. Use at your own risk.

Another tip:

Brewhaus.com sells Bison Grass Vodka extract made in Sweden. On its own it’s a rather poor attempt at capturing the essence of real Zubrowka, but when added to the Sweet Grass extract in small amounts (one 20ml bottle per cup of real Sweet Grass extract) it enhances the final product a bit.

Na Zdrowie!

Known mail order sources of live Sweet Grass (Hierochloe Odorata) plants.


Known source for live and dried Sweet Grass- dry available only July- September, min ½ lb.